German Angst: Sex, fascism and genital-shaped monsters
by Thomas Humphrey
- The constantly oneiric and uncanny German Angst is a key part of IFFR's focus on the re-emergence of Surrealism this year
The world premiere of German Angst [+see also:
film profile] in the surrealist "Really? Really." programme at the 44th International Film Festival Rotterdam marks a remorseless return for Jörg Buttgereit after a 22-year hiatus. Fortunately, "Butti" was coaxed back by co-directors Michal Kosakowski and Andreas Marschall to collaborate on this gory three-part piece.
And his long-awaited return doesn't disappoint. His short Final Girl once again shifts the video nasty to the intellectual end of the spectrum. His stylised shots have their peripheries blurred, tunnelling our vision towards repellent details. This effect is misanthropic when applied to Lola Gave, the nameless girl, as we linger on all her blemishes in extreme close-ups.
With typical humour, too, Lola is explicitly a "final girl" (the only girl left alive in slasher movies to wreak revenge on the villain). Except the villain is never explained. We are only invited to interpret that he has perhaps been a sexually abusive father. Something encouraged by her genital-orientated initial retaliation. With his usual skill, however, Buttgereit blurs harrowing mutilation with sexual climax - making Final Girl seem like one big incestuous game of bondage gone wrong. We're back in an uncomfortable place, but there is also something cathartic about it.
There is also a wonderful acceptance of how hard it is not to read Final Girl backwards, against Buttgereit's canon. The mise-en-scène and the lo-fi torture implements could well be from 20 years ago. And this retrospectiveness even seems to inspire Kosakowski in his Make a Wish. This short contains flashbacks from Nazi-occupied Poland (recounted as if they were Brothers Grimm fairy tales), and here we switch to a Super 8-esque style, as if in homage to Buttgereit's earliest films. This look back at the Nazi period alludes to Buttgereit's efforts to resist its repression in German culture, too. Kosakowski keeps it firmly contemporary, however, by cutting away from this to contemporary neo-Nazis, making the avoidance of Germany's difficult past impossible.
Marschall's Alraune exposes very different cultural repressions, but he, too, emulates the master. The title's etymology is explained to be "nightmare whisper", and refers to the Mandrake root which repeatedly appears in this hallucinogenic piece. But "Alraune" is also an intertextual reference to Hanns Heinz Ewers' novel of the same name. So both Kosakowski and Marschall have remained aware of what makes Buttgereit great: his ability to artistically take Surrealism into nightmare.
And Marschall's nightmarish whisper seems to be this: monogamy results in a depravation of satisfaction that we cannot overcome. Succumbing to the narcotic pleasures of more taboo alternatives in dreams, however, culminates in a gory dream/real-world death, featuring an eviscerating penis/vagina monster. So as you can probably tell, the films in German Angst make a touching homage to the Buttgereit world view. They're full of the gore that many of his fans will be longing for. But they're also full of the critical slashes that more discerning viewers will be seeking.