Helden sterben anders (Heroes Die Differently) (2007)




Director:     Ivo Sasek.

Starring:     Andreas Lambrix (Leopold I), Klaus Mertens (Leopold I), Justin Möhring (Pater Waldes), Irwin Reitberger (Ludwig der Bayer), Anna-Sophia Sasek (Anneli), David Sasek (Arnold Winkelried), Joschua Sasek (Arnold Winkelried), Sulamith Sasek (Anneli), Christian Schoop (Arnold Winkelried), Edith Schoop (Anneli).

in the Battle of Sempach, 1386, young Arnold Winkelried turns the battle for the Swiss against Leopold III, Duke of Austria by throwing himself on the spears of the enemy



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the film. 


Part I. 

A man scolds the writer for not having written a short history of the Battle of Sempach, July 9, 1836, but instead has written a biography about Arnold Winkelried.  The man says that future generations will know only the name of Leopold III of Habsburg, Duke of Austria, who fell before the will of the Swiss people to remain free.  

Flashback.  In a big pasture the people are driving up the sheep to the alpine pastures.  Tell comes and asks if he and his party may accompany them?  Tell's grandson is very excited about going up into the mountains.  The grandson is the son of his oldest daughter, Vreni.  The boy's name is Arnold Winkelried (Noldi being his nickname)..  Arnold shouts:  "Hurrah!  I get to spend the night with Grandfather in the hay!"

Some Austrian guards stop the group saying they can go no farther.  Tell comes up to tell them:  "Ever since I was a a child, we together with our grandfathers put our animals out to graze on this pastureland."  The guard explains that the pastureland belongs to Abbot John.  Frederic the Handsome, the Emperor, gave it to the monastery.  Tell objects saying that the Emperor doesn't have the right to give this land away .  The Swiss people become angry and threaten the guards with violence.  A guard strikes Tell and he cries out in pain as he goes to the ground.  So now the Swiss chase the guards away. 

Grandfather can't continue the walk because of his pain.  The people say they must continue on because they have a long walk ahead of them.  Noldi is going to stay with grandfather, but grandfather tells him to catch up with the group for he will come a little later on. 

The guards watch from behind a tree.  They decide the they will take the grandfather as a hostage and that way they will be able to discover where the other Swiss are going.  They recognize grandfather for his father was the one who shot Gessler.  When the coast is clear the guards grab the old man.  A little later Noldi comes back to get grandfather, but grandfather is gone.  Noldi feels guilty about leaving his grandfather alone.  He starts yelling for help, but there is none.  He starts heading down the mountain to find his grandfather.

The three guards are in a row boat along with a very tied up grandfather.  They are planning to toss the old man into the water.  Noldi sees the guards push grandfather into the water.  The grandson cries and cries for his grandfather.  He then takes an oath:  "I swear by my own blood that I will take revenge and not stop until I see you squirming in your own blood." 

Noldi is now back with his parents.  Mother is worried about him because for three weeks he hasn't eaten the way he should.  His mother and father want him to forget his plans for vengeance on the Austrian guards.  Dad tells him he is forbidden to join any Boys' Gang. 

At night Noldi runs away.  He finds a Boys' Gang and approaches them.  He falls into a hole hidden underneath a thin covering of leaves and sticks.  The boys all run to see who they caught.  Noldi tells them that he wants to be one of them.  After a bit more conversation, the leader says the boy is alright.  So the other boys help Noldi out of the trap.

Freed from the hole, Noldi asks if the leader is the son of the German mercenary?  The leader says  his name is Danny.   He asks Noldi if the others told him also that his father's a murderer?  Yes.  The boys are impressed knowing that Noldi still wants to join the gang, even though he knows the leader's father is a murderer.  Danny tells Noldi that his father was a knight serving Rudolf of Habsburg.  Danny and his father are sworn to fight for the cause of the Swiss people.  Noldi asks Danny if they could help him avenge his grandfather's death?  And now he gets into the tricky area of "blood guilt".   Noldi says:  "God said, didn't He, that blood guilt can only be done away with by shedding the blood of those who did the killing."  Danny says they will help Noldi.  They know the patrol areas of the men who killed his grandfather. 

The group lies in wait for the three men and when the men appear, the boys pounce on them.  Then all of a sudden Noldi says:  "Stop!  I heard one of the three cry out that he would not have any part in it.  We don't want to shed innocent blood."  This delay gives the mercenaries time to come to the rescue of the men.  All the boys escape in time, but the murderers hold onto Noldi. 

The two who murdered Tell say they are going to sell Noldi as a slave for the money.  The other man tells them to let the boy go.  Noldi makes a break for freedom and the two men chase him.  Noldi falls down and strikes his head on some rock.  Two hunters use their bows and arrows to kill the two mercenaries with their arrows. 

Noldi wakes up in a hidden place in the mountains.  The people around him are persecuted Waldensian Christians.  They believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and God's spiritual gifts.  They add that over the last 300 years in their seven crusades the Roman-Catholic Church has killed more than 22 million innocent people.  In Jerusalem they killed 60,000 Jews. 

While they talk, other men capture them.  One of the Waldensian women says the boy is not a Waldensian and should be set free.  The leader says that they will use the boy to help with different errands.  Noldi is taken away.  Now the torture of the captured people is continued.  They are all killed.

Noldi works scrubbing floors in a monastery.  Doing this job he meets a Swiss girl named Anneli who also has to work for the mercenaries.  She comes from Alsace.  Anneli tells Noldi that she was kidnapped.  The girl adds that Abbot John is around here, so they have to be careful.  She lost both her parents because of the Roman Church.   Anneli's parents were Jewish and were persecuted.  Her parents were killed for refusing to be baptized.  They were decapitated in front of Anneli.  Noldi hugs her and tells her they must both be brave now.  He tells her that his friend Danny will come and rescue them.   He also swears that for as long as he lives, he will take care of her. 

A sister comes and scolds the children for not working.  She takes them out to the garden where they will prepare the soil for a new garden section.  As the children dig in the soil, Anneli finds a small human skull and starts screaming.  And again Anneli is chastised by a nun for screaming so loudly.  Now Noldi finds a small human skull.  Noldi digs some more and comes up with three more small skulls.  He tells Anneli that something terrible must have happened here.  He says they are going to escape from the monastery. 

The children go into the basement to find a way to escape.  They find what sounds like a tavern.  They open the door and see the drunken priests and nuns having a bout of debauchery.  The children see them holding each other and kissing.  Their way is blocked so they return to the main part of the monastery. 

At night Danny comes to the monastery.  Arnold is awakened by noises outside.  He goes to check and through the window sees Danny with a lighted torch.  Noldi grabs a lit candle and signals to Danny where he is in the monastery.  Danny throws a stone wrapped in a note through the window.  The note tells Noldi to be ready to leave at this same time tomorrow.  Noldi acknowledges the receipt of the note by candle.    Now he goes over to tell Anneli the good news.  Along the way, however, the rock and paper fall out of Noldi's pocket. 

While Noldi and Anneli whisper to each other, the one good Abbott, Abbott Waldes, finds the note. 

The next night as promised, Danny and his gang show up.  They have a little machine that launches a harpoon with a rope attached to it.  It lands inside Anneli's room.  A note is attached to the harpoon which tells Noldi to pull until the ladder comes up.  The escapees use the ladder to get down, but then Abbott Waldes shows up.  The gang all run away, but the good abbot snags both of the  escapees.  They tell him that they want to escape to get away from a monastery where they kill babies and the priests and nuns have sex parties.

Then Abbott Waldes tells them that he is their friend.  He has suffered here in this monastery like they have.  Anneli asks him why did he not run away from the devil's house?  Because he is afraid that these people would harm both himself and his family.  And the same would happen to the children and their families.  He says hundreds of infants were murdered here.  These people are part of the Inquisition and they deliberately condemn women as witches in order to get their possessions and money.  He also says this place is just one of many like it.  He adds:  ". . . behind all this is a world encompassing power that can persecute us through its inquisitors wherever we might flee."  The children go back with the abbott  to the monastery.

On some steps the two kids extend a rope between them over a step.  One of the priests comes down and trips over the rope.  He grabs the two kids and gives them even nastier chores to do. 

The kids are working in one area.  So to play a trick, they go to another area to set up a little trap.  They soap up the steps and this time a nun trips and falls on the steps.  The nun is badly hurt and another nun calls the nun who had cleaned the steps:  "You careless slut!"  She is also called a good-for-nothing and a dirt devil.  As they stand there, they realize that the hurt nun has given birth to a baby.  So now they will kill the baby and bury it in the garden.  When they say this, Anneli gets very upset and cries while she yells at the nuns not to kill the baby.  So they swear her to secrecy about this matter and Anneli agrees.  But another nun says the girl should be taken to the tower.  Anneli is dragged to the tower and put  in a cell. 

At night Noldi swears that he and Danny will get Anneli free from her prison cell.  Danny climbs up the tower and throws a rope ladder to Noldi.  Then Danny comes through the window.  Noldi says he knew Danny would come to help him.  Noldi tells Danny to go amongst the people and tell them of all the horrors being committed at the monastery.   Danny agrees and says they will work until the power of the Habsburgs is broken. 

The story spreads like wildfire through the dry forest.  The gossip mill spreads the stories about the horrors at the monastery.

Many years pass and Noldi is a young man now.   He tells himself that he will get Anneli out of her cell soon.  Noldi pretends that he is one with the priests and nuns.  Outside he sees the holy men selling indulgences to the poor people.  He also sees the priests come with two young girls accused of being witches.  He sees a man cut off the ear of his small daughter to teach her a lesson. 

One day Noldi sees one of his grandfather's killers and cuts his head off with the murderer's own sword.   He kills a number of priests who were selling indulgences.  A guard comes along and Noldi kills him too. 

The good clergyman tells Arnold that he has heard that Leopold of outer Austria wants to expand his kingdom. 

Leopold looks at a map and says that his territories are too spread out and everywhere commotion reigns.  He wants:  "One people -  one language - one religion - one king."   He says he will need a co-ruler to put his broad plan into action.  He changes his mind and says now he wants two rulers to help him rule his grand vision.  He wants his brother by blood to be a co-ruler.  His name is Frederic the Handsome.  His wife can't believe what he is saying.  He adds that the other co-ruler would be Ludwig of Bavaria.  His wife has no objection to Ludwig of Bavaria, but Leopold risks losing his entire kingdom to his blood brother. 

Ludwig arrives to speak with King Leopold.  Leopold tells Ludwig that after they have captured all the territories they want, then Ludwig can knock off Frederic the Handsome and take his land.  That way Leopold and Ludwig would each rule half of outer Austria.  Ludwig doesn't like this, saying he fears the people because they could have him executed.  Leopold scoffs at this worry. 

Now Frederic the Handsome comes in.  Leopold warmly receives him.  Now Leopold has to tell the two men that they cannot get the blessings of the Pope for their enterprise.  Ludwig is concerned and asks who then will give the blessing of the Church for our royal office?  Leopold says that Abbot John from the Klausner Monastery, could give the blessing.  It will cost them a lot of money, but it will be worth it.  The only thing that Abbot John asks is that the two new co-rulers take confession.

Frederic talks to a priest and says that his brother Leopold would have him executed on the spot if he ever learned what Frederic is going to confess.  Abbot John wants to take advantage of Frederic.  In exchange for a very low bail, Frederic is to turn over to the monastery all of the pasture land from Schwyz.  The father happens to have a contract right before him.  He gets Frederic to sign the document.  A little later he says Frederic later on will have something else for him.  Frederic calls him a charlatan and says he will execute him.  The priest warns him that then Frederic would lose everything. 

Ludwig has the priests all stand in one line.  They have to close their eyes and open their mouths.  In each mouth he places a gold coin.  When it's Arnold's turn, he spits the gold coin out onto the floor. This shocks everyone except Ludwig.  He tells the high priest that he has chosen.  Arnold will be the one because, he says:  "In contrast to you this one does not esteem the transitory value of gold."  Ludwig tells everyone now that Arnold shall take his holy confession.  They go into the confessional booth, but Arnold says he can't take the king's confession.  He is too young for that.  The king insists.  So Arnold says that the king must listen to his confession before Arnold will listen to the king's confession.  Arnold starts telling his story. 

Ludwig now tells his story.  He says everyday he betrays his people because he is in such great sympathy with the Swiss and their goals.  He adds:  "I admire your common aims."  Ludwig wants to be a part of the Swiss experiment. 

Frederic's wife is furious with Frederic.  She can't believe he gave so much great land away to the abbot and the monastery.  She suggests that he talk to Ludwig because when recently the name of the abbot came up, he looked filled with hatred and contempt. 

Frederic goes to the high priest and tells him that he knows all about the wicked things that go on in the monastery.  He says:  "If a single person finds out about that which only the two of us know, then damned little monk, I tell you I will order your garden and your cellar to be excavated."

The Austrians now man a stone wall wall with their guards.  The main guard tells the people that there is no passage through the area behind them.  He says the new king has given this land to Abbot John as a gift.  The people become angry and push by the guards. 

Arnold tells the common people that their push through the guards has enraged the lord of the monastery.  He has filed a complaint with the archbishop of Constance and the archbishop has sent him some help.  The people have been excommunicated from the Church.  Furthermore, the priests of the country of Schwyz are all forbidden to open the churches for mass.  The doors of the churches are all closed to the people and that even includes children yet to be baptized.  In addition, young people will not be married by the churches and old people will not be buried in the churches' graveyards.  The people become really angry against King Frederic for giving away so much land to the abbot, but they leave rather quietly. 

Arnold sees a knight who he recognizes.  After the people have left, he kills the knight with his sword.  A fellow witnesses this and Arnold is about to kill him too, but the man is able to tell Arnold that Danny sent him.  His name is Walter Stauffacher.  He tells Arnold that Abbot John has brought disgrace to the people.  They want to meet with Ludwig the Bavarian, who is friends with the Archbishop of Mainz, who will in turn re-open the churches to the common folk.  Tomorrow they will storm the monastery.  He also brings from Danny the plans for the attack.  He adds that Ludwig wants to know if Arnold will be his governor for the city of Brugg?  Walter whispers to Arnold that King Ludwig himself wants to become a Swiss.  Arnold says he wants time to think over his decision.

A man comes to kill Arnold, but Arnold gets hold of the man's sword, and kills the fellow. 

Arnold puts on a knight's outfit and goes into a tavern.  He asks if anyone has heard about Arnold?  He pushes a man away who is pawing a woman.  This starts a fight in the tavern.  Arnold knocks down a couple of men and kills another. 

Arnold as priest runs into his abbot friend.   The abbot notices that Arnold has been wounded in the hand.  Arnold tries to say a knife slipped and cut him, but the abbot does not believe him.   He tells Arnold that he still sees a deep hatred in Arnold.  Arnold says that the priest has been a great father to him and he wishes he could be a better son to him.  He adds that many of the things the priest wants from him, he just cannot do. The fatherly priest says that Arnold needs the power of the Holy Spirit.  He lacks the Gift of the Holy Spirit.  Arnold protests that the priest promised he and Anneli that they would be rescued, but it's been a long time that they have had to wait.  And Anneli is still in the tower.  Furthermore, he doesn't even know if she is well and doing okay.  Abbott Waldes repeats that the way to the Kingdom of God is not through vengeance and violence, but through self-sacrifice and love.

Arnold launches a stone through the window of Anneli's cell.  Around it is a note saying that tomorrow they shall be free.

A woman saw Arnold's face when he was fighting in the tavern.  She thinks for awhile and reveals that the face she saw was that of brother Arnold, the favorite of father Waldes. 

Two knights attack Arnold, but Arnold kills both of them. 

Arnold now goes out to see Danny.  Arnold is in his knight's armor and Danny thinks he's a knight.  He jumps on Arnold and they both topple off a hill and roll to the bottom of it.  Arnold takes his helmet off and tells Danny that he is his friend Arnold.  The two young men hug each other.  Danny says the time that they have waited so long for has finally come.    But Arnold has to tell him that at the monastery, he has been found out.  He says this means that they will have to strike today. 


Part II.


The take over of the monastery begins. The unarmed priests and nuns are killed.  Arnold gets the keys off the dead jailer and goes up to get Anneli.  They reunite, but Arnold soon discovers that Anneli has had her tongue cut out.  Two men and a nun come to check on Anneli and Arnold kills all three of them.  A knight comes in and tries to kill Arnold, but Arnold kills him instead.  And here comes another man.  Arnold sees his shadow and he throws a knife into the person.  It turns out that the person is his surrogate father, Abbott Waldes.  Both Arnold and Anneli cry over the loss of their father.  Arnold now swears that he will never kill again. 

Arnold has an epiphany of sorts where he says he will atone for the blood he has spilt by an act where he sheds his own blood. 

Arnold and Anneli now have quite a few children.  The household is sad today because father is leaving to attend a meeting of the parliament.  Going to the parliament he has to pay a tax.  He gives a long speech to the two guards there about what he wants to accomplish in life.  He wants to help the poor and the defrauded people.  He seems to be more religious even than the clergy.  He presents his ideas to the members of parliament. 

On the road again they still have to pay another toll.  Arnold gets into a dispute about paying another toll after he just got through paying a toll.  The two men start to manhandle Arnold and his friend and throw the two men to the ground.  One of the toll takers now starts kicking the men on the ground.  Another toll taker comes to join in on the "fun", but loses his footing and starts to topple down hill.  He grabs on to his partner to stop his forward momentum and ends up going over the side of a cliff with his partner.  Arnold holds one of the men by the hand while the other man hangs on to his partner's legs.  But Arnold can't hold them forever and the men fall to their deaths on the rocks below. 

Arnold returns home where his family tells him that Leopold III is attacking the Swiss.  War is coming and dad has to go quickly to Maienfeld to try and negotiate a peace treaty.  A man comes running to tell Arnold he must come immediately.  So Arnold has to leave his family again. 

The Austrians in their encampment have a celebration of their adventure.  Tomorrow they head for the town of Sempach.  A messenger comes to tell Leopold that he must turn back to Sursee for someone has given Leopold's plans to the Swiss.  The Swiss farmers are not at Zurich.  There's hundreds or thousands of the enemy in the woods north of Sempach.  Leopold doesn't take the threat seriously.  The court jester, however, also suggests that the Austrians will be defeated in battle tomorrow. 

The Swiss are moving up to fight the Austrians.  A group of escaped criminals wants to fight along side the Swiss, but they are rejected because these men are guilty of serious crimes like murder and arson. Sadly, the criminals leave.  Now the Swiss run into a part of the Austrian army.  There are more Austrians than Swiss and the enemy has armor on.  As the Austrians prepare for battle, a huge pile of large cut logs are rolled down the hill onto the troops, killing or wounding nearly all the enemy. Now Arnold's group realizes that they owe a great deal to the criminals and he is willing to let the criminals fight along side them. 

The Swiss contingent force is on the move again.  Different contingents meet up together.  A man with Arnold asks the fighters where is Mayor Petermann of Gundoldingen?   Someone says that the mayor is giving last instructions to the men in Meier's Wood. 

The Austrians are having a hard time.  Their horses can't get up certain hills.  The boots of the knights are so uncomfortable that the knight's start cutting off the tips of the boots. 

The Mayor of Gundoldingen tells his men that they will attack in a V-formation.  This way they are more likely to be able to push through the Austrian lines.  He also tells his men that the armor on the knights will put them at a disadvantage.  The Swiss run at the Austrian lines, but can't break through.  There are many Swiss casualties.  Mayor Petermann tells the men to fall back to Meier's Wood. 

Crying, Arnold tells the men they should have listened to him for 60 of their men have fallen in battle.  He wanted to negotiate first.  Arnold tells the men that now the army is under the command of Walter Stauffacher. 

Arnold gives a big speech to the two armies facing each other.  He sounds like many a liberal preacher.  The result is still the same.  The battle will continue.  Now Arnold runs forward holding the banner up high.  The Austrians hold their long spears down but Arnold falls on a number of the spears.  His sacrifice fills many of the Swiss with the will to fight and they jump into the fray also.  Arnold dies.  The line of the Austrians has been broken and the Swiss are doing very well against the Austrians.  Leopold is right in the thick of the fighting. 

A Swiss leader pushes the king's face into the mud while he strangles him to death.  Many bodies are strewn about the battlefield, both Swiss and Austrian.  The Swiss have won the Battle of Sempach. 

"The happy ending is found in the establishment of a free, independent and neutral Switzerland."

Back to the present.  The writer of the history of the Battle of Sempach has not yet finished it.  His supervisor comes to him and tells him to remember these words:  "Many, and not just one died on that memorable day."  He is told to tear up the biography and finish the history of the battle.  The supervisor leaves.



The movie seems a bit amateurish.  Sometimes the lines sound strange and the acting is poor.  At times the lines are too sentimental and a bit cheesy.  And there are too many long religious speeches by various characters. The part of the story of Arnold as a child is especially long and it drags.  On the other hand, this is one of the few historical films dealing with Switzerland.    For that reason the film deserves an audience. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1278-1526  --  the beginnings of the Habsburg Monarchy.

1291  -- he cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden united.  This proved to the one nucleus of the Old Swiss Confederacy. 

1351  --  the birth of the future Leopold III. 

1353  --  the three original cantons were joined by the cantons of Glarus and Zue and the city states of Lucerne, Zurich and Ber, forming the "Old Federation" of eight states that persisted during much of the 15th century. 

1379  --  after the death of Rudolf IV (the founder of the Habsburg dynasty in Austria), his two brothers Albert III and Leopold III split the realms in the Treaty of Neuberg.

1383-1384  --  the expansion of the Old Swiss Confederacy collided with Austrian interests.

1385  --   there were various attacks, without formal declaration of war by forces of Zürich, Zug and Lucern on the Austrian strongholds of Rapperswil, Rothenburg Cham and Wolhusen.

1386  --  in January, Lucerne expanded its sphere of influence by entering pacts with a number of towns and valleys under Austrian control, including Entlebuch, Sempach, Meienberg, Reichensee and Willisau. This move was the immediate cause of the  next war.

Austria gathered its forces at Brugg.  Leopold III marched south, to Zofingen and on to Willisau, apparently ultimately aiming for the city of Lucerne.  The town of Willisau was plundered and burned, and the army moved on to Sursee on Lake Sempach, and thence towards Sempach on July 9.  In response, Swiss Confederate troops of Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden marched from Zürich once they learned that Zurich was not Leopold's target.

1386 --  The Battle of Sempach was fought on July 9, between Leopold III, Duke of Austria, and the Old Swiss Confederacy.  Leopold III is killed in battle. 

A Swiss legend says that Switzerland won the battle because Arnold von Winkelried opened a breach in the Habsburg lines by throwing himself into their pikes, thereby taking them down with his body so many pikes that the confederates could attack through the opening.  But it never happened (or at least it cannot be substantiated). 

An armistice was agreed upon on 12 October.

1387  -- a peace agreement was reached that would be valid for one year, and would begin on January 14.

1402 --  there was another split in the Leopoldian line.  Ernest the Iron took Inner Austria and Frederick IV became ruler of Tyrol and Further Austria. 




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