Review: A Pure Place
by David Katz
- Nikias Chryssos’s daffy Greek-German fable staged on a picturesque island thinks it’s the New Testament, JM Barrie and Sophocles all rolled into one
Sometimes, movies depicting murderous cults also earn endearment as “cult films”, but A Pure Place [+see also:
interview: Nikias Chryssos
film profile] is unlikely to trouble that counter-pantheon. Possessing the production value and visual pizazz of a mid-2000s rock video, and a script that feels inspired by the kinds of recreational substances Jodorowsky-esque directors expect audiences to enjoy watching their films with, every impressive stylistic coup of this work is chased by the uneasy feeling of how silly it all is. Nikias Chryssos’s film, his second full-length feature after the Berlinale-premiered The Bunker [+see also:
film profile], first screened this past weekend at Filmfest München.
To return to the question of stimulants, there’s a piece of lore in the stand-up comedy world that the performer should be dead sober at the mic, lest they lose their edge; it’s the audience whom you want to be wasted. There’s such a bleary, incoherent feeling to the plotting, ideas and characterisation here, mixing so many incompatible sources (Sadean cults of punishment, stale Tim Burton-esque whimsy), that any profundity eludes its grasp.
The queasy thing is that vulnerable children are so central to the plot. A Pure Place is mainly seen from the point of view of young siblings Paul (Claude Heinrich) and Irina (Greta Bohacek), abducted into a cult (adding the adjective “strange” would be redundant) founded on a dogma of extreme “cleanliness”: the children are impounded as slaves in a factory to produce a popular brand of soap. That soap is emblazoned with the surname “Fust”, also the name of the tyrannical leader (well-travelled German character actor Sam Louwyck), whose family (in less cultish surroundings) originally manufactured the product. Irina is plucked from child slavery to prematurely become one of the cult’s elders, when an odd ultrasound test reveals she has all-white organs. Louwyck’s performance is an endearing feature of this film, as he works hard to give substance to Fust’s odd character arc – it summons the spirit of Christopher Lee from The Wicker Man and the elegantly spoken Swedish cultists from Midsommar.
What rankles is the lack of conviction: Chryssos wants us to furrow our brows at the mythological references and supposed satirical wit, and take it seriously, with the insurance that this is really all a bit of a lark: a sinister cult that ironically makes fairly benign consumer hygiene products. It also wants us to deplore the sexualisation of children by these sects, whilst slightly getting off on the edge of showing taboo material. To top this off, there is imagery evoking the Third Reich – which many films of an allegorical nature take part in – but again, it appears solely for the means of exercising more cruelty on the cult’s subjects, and generating suspense like a wind-up toy.
Chryssos has undoubted talent as an image maker and deviser, but there is a shallowness and incoherence in his work here. It’s like a mad roam-around in his capacious imagination, with plenty of fallen branches to trip us up.
A Pure Place is a German production by Violet Pictures UG.
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