Sunday, June 29, 2014

June Quick Picks and Pans – Germany Month

Antibodies (2005) Writer/director Christian Alvart (Downfall) ponders the nature of good and evil in this complex thriller. The title serves as a metaphor for the inherent trappings of civilization and notions of morality that protect us from damaging thoughts and destructive impulses.  When pious cop Michael Martens (Wotan Wilke Mohring) is tasked with interviewing serial child killer Gabriel Engel (André Hennicke) about his crimes, Engel gets inside his head.  Shrouded by his religious faith and blinded by delusions of living a virtuous life, Martens becomes susceptible to Engel’s dangerous ideations as surely as a virus.  As the infection spreads, he begins to doubt himself and his family.  Alvart suggests that everyone, no matter how upright, has demons that we dare not reveal to the rest of society.  Given the heinous crimes perpetrated by Engel, Alvart shows commendable restraint, revealing just enough to set your mind reeling, but not enough to turn away the audience.  The tense atmosphere kept me on the edge of my seat for the duration of the 2-hour-plus film.  Just when it appeared to be heading one way, there were surprises in store.

Rating: ****.  Available on DVD.

Felidae (1994) Director Michael Schaack’s bold animated film, based on a novel by Akif Pirinçci, is reminiscent of The Plague Dogs, mixed with The Aristocats.  We follow the exploits of intrepid feline protagonist Francis as he investigates a rash of murdered cats in his neighborhood.  As the mystery unfolds, he uncovers a plot bigger than he ever imagined, involving the human and cat worlds.  Due to Felidae’s adult themes and graphic imagery, it was probably considered unmarketable in the U.S., and never received a proper domestic release. While the depictions of sex and vivisection are admittedly strong stuff, it deserved better.  Few animated films outside the realm of anime have dared to explore similar territory with such a frank approach.  Felidae avoids the sort of formulaic elements many American viewers have been conditioned to expect, such as throwaway comic characters or extraneous musical interludes.  Lovers of international animation, as well as anyone tired of animated films aimed at 8-year-olds, will likely find a lot to like.  While Region 1 residents are out of luck regarding a home video release, it’s currently available on YouTube.  Catch it while you can.

Rating: ****.  Currently unavailable on DVD (Region 1).

NoBody’s Perfect (2008) Niko von Glasow’s eye-opening documentary is a bit like Calendar Girls with a twist.  The film chronicles a nude photo shoot featuring 12 victims of Thalidomide (a potent sedative that was prescribed to expectant mothers in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and resulted in infants with physical deformities).  While the material could easily have devolved into an exploitive freak show, von Glasow chooses to focus on the participants as individuals, each with unique stories of dealing with prejudice and struggles to fit into society.  Instead of a reductive examination of their defects, we are treated to an exploration of their strengths.  We spend the most time with von Glasow (a Thalidomide victim himself), as he grapples with his feelings of inadequacy and reluctance to visit a public swimming pool with his daughter.  Another narrative thread follows his attempt to seek restitution from the German pharmaceutical company that marketed Thalidomide.  I would venture to guess that most people, regardless of his or her physical appearance, would be reluctant to agree to such a photo shoot, but the fact that a dozen people with misshapen and/or missing limbs consented to the project speaks volumes.  NoBody’s Perfect avoids being heavy-handed, addressing issues of vanity, body image and courage with equal doses of humor and poignancy.

Rating: ****.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming

Chingachgook: The Great Snake (aka: Chingachgook, Die Grosse Schlange) (1967) An East German Western?  You betcha.  From 1965 to 1982, East German DEFA studios produced a dozen Westerns (known as “Indianerfilme”), all starring Yugoslavian actor Gojko Mitić.  Based on James Fenimore Cooper novel The Deerslayer and historical events, Chingachgook takes place in 1740.  Mitić plays the title character, a former Mohican now living with the Delawares.  When the Hurons, a rival tribe, capture his intended, he embarks on a peril-filled quest to rescue her.  He finds a friend and ally in white hunter Wildtöter (Rolf Römer), who shares his distrust for trigger-happy colonists and British soldiers.  Enjoyment of this movie requires a certain suspension of disbelief, considering there wasn’t a single Native American in the cast, or the mountainous territory (filmed in Slovakia and Bulgaria) was incongruous with the region of the story.  But the movie manages to be consistently entertaining thanks to a charismatic lead and a suitably epic scope.  Taken in the right context, Chingachgook is a fun alternative interpretation of the venerable Western genre.

Rating: ***.  Available on DVD

Tears of Kali (2004) This slow-moving, loose horror anthology, comprised of three short films by writer/director Andreas Marschall, deals with mental illness and the dark side of therapy.   The framing segments take place in India with a guru who developed a vaguely described treatment for emotional disorders.  The second segment, about a man with anger-management issues who’s sent to a court-appointed therapist with unorthodox methods, is the best.  It’s squirm-inducing in spots, and there are some good gore effects for the budget, but the film is hampered by its cheap shot-on-videotape look, poor pacing and an atrocious English dub (the DVD’s German Language option doesn’t include subtitles) that adds some unintentional comedy to this somber mood piece.

Rating: **½.  Available on DVD


  1. You found a documentary of interest on Netflix streaming that I somehow overlooked! NoBody's Perfect is definitely on my short list now. I'm intrigued by Felidae, too. Why can't I find enough time to watch everything? You have a knack for digging a little deeper and finding titles of which I'm unaware. Of course, that makes Cinematic Catharsis one of the most useful blogs I visit. :)

    1. That's high praise, indeed! Thanks so much for the kind words and continuing support. :)