Senin, 14 Maret 2011

Das Unheil AKA Havoc (1972) - Peter Fleischmann

Based on Martin Walser's modern classic novel Das Unhell, this German film is much shorter than director Peter Fleischmann's original six-hour version. The book was notable for its complexity, psychological precision, and poetic imagery. The many-layered story concerns how a small town responds to the stresses of modern living: the political changes, social changes, and personal problems which change the nature of their once secure world forever.
- Clarke Fountain, All Movie Guide

The priest of the small German town of Wetzlar, largely inhabited by Silesians, is preparing the annual celebration of the “return of the church bell”. During World War II, many church bells were confiscated to provide metal for weapons but a large number of them were not used and instead returned to the churches from which they had been taken.
This fortunate “miracle” is about to be celebrated and the priest Mr. Vavra (Reinhard Kolldehoff) repeatedly emphasises the importance of this celebration and is expecting his entire family to participate eagerly in the preparations, even his daughter Dimuth (Silke Kulik) which he once abandoned because she had had nude photographs of herself taken. His lethargic son Hille (Vitus Zeplichal) could not care less about his father’s “fancies”. In fact, he seems to not care about anything in particular, neither his approaching school exams nor the lukewarm sexual affair he is entertaining with a rich industrialist’s wife (Ingmar Zeisberg). The very same industrialist is the chairman of a nearby factory which is criticised for dumping its waste in the river. When a growing number of strange, inexplicable effects of damage, decay and death occur, the inhabitants of the town blame it on the factory.

In many ways, DAS UNHEIL could be considered Peter Fleischmann’s “dress rehearsal” for DIE HAMBURGER KRANKHEIT, his dystopian satire, made seven years later on a wider scale. Said scale is one of the foremost reasons why the latter film is, at least partially, more successful in dissecting post-68 Germany which, in Fleischmann’s films, is not all that different from pre-WWII Germany. With its focus on a single, provincial town, DAS UNHEIL assembles a more detailed, yet also more one-dimensional panorama of social self-destruction. The residents of the town are tearing their reactionary social order, their Christian morals and their beliefs down by exaggerating them to the edge of redundance and complete ridicule without ever being aware of it in the least.

Instead, they blame the downfall of their community on chemical contamination of the river that runs through the town, caused by a nearby factory.
With his usual dry sarcasm that borderlines contempt in this particular film, Fleischmann and his cameraman Dib Lutfi stagger around the actors with a unnervingly intimate handheld camera, often using extremely long takes and intimidatingly study the characters and their “unhealthy” physique and depressed, dull faces. An entire pet shop full of dead canaries and fishes, poisoned rats rotting in the mud by the riverside, bored teenagers who try to organise a bombing on behalf of the RAF (German red army), pedantic and hysterical housewives who desperately try to maintain family harmony, a unrepentant former Nazi scientist teaching at the town's secondary school, greasy shop clerks who harass their female customers, religious fanatics, silent and viciously staring pensioners…

A grim and hostile air breathes from the unsavoury imagery captured by the seemingly documentary camera which appears to be penetrating a heap of human decay with the utmost relish.
Of course, Fleischmann’s films have almost always had a strong focus on satire and viciously symbolised criticism of German society which is always portrayed as a cradle of fascist mentalities by Fleischmann. But I personally think that DAS UNHEIL goes over the edge. At times, such misanthropic hatred seems to steam from the never ending chain of emphatically unlikeable, asocial and deeply reactionary characters and their separate scenes - or, rather, miniatures – as DIE HAMBURGER KRANKHEIT, this film has only quite a vague narrative structure with no actual dramatic evolution - that even the most antinationalist German viewer (as a matter of fact, I would describe myself antinationalist and can relate to Fleischmann’s trauma with his rural upbringing) could start wondering what the film is actually aiming for, other than gleefully imagining the decay of a nation or, more generally, the decay of humanity. Perhaps, we could assume that it more or less was a kind of self-exorcism for Fleischmann – as was JAGDSZENEN AUS NIEDERBAYERN.

Having expressed all my personal difficulties within the reception of DAS UNHEIL, I should not hold back my admiration for the cinematic vocabulary with which Fleischmann comes up in his quest for a maximum of “German horror”. The aforementioned, long, handheld and often quite complex shots might evoke uneasiness through the physical brutality with which they approach the actors, but they also provide for a quite unique film experience – as does the remarkable sound design which emphasises distorted street noises, dissonant rock music and an eerie church organ tune.
The film won the "Prix du Luis Buñuel" in Cannes and according to one of the German blurbs below, Buñuel himself left the screening which is understandable as DAS UNHEIL certainly is far from the tastefulness of Buñuel's own films.

no pass,no subs

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