February 28, 2012

Nekromantik (1987)

Cinema of Transgression, term first used by filmmaker Nick Zedd to describe a movement of independent cinema (of which he was an important member) that took place during the late 70s and early 80s and which had as main trait the fact that it was often shocking or outrageous for the more conventional sensibilities. While the Cinema of Transgression was strictly an American movement, a lot of similarities can be find with the work of a German filmmaker named Jörg Buttgereit and the series of transgressive films he made during the last half of the 1980s. Earning experience by making Super 8 short films, Jörg Buttgereit first experience in a feature length film was his collaboration in Michael Brynntrup's experimental film "Jesus - Der film" in 1986. The following year, he debuted as a feature length director with the film that would define his career as a transgressive filmmaker: "Nekromantik". As the title may suggest, in "Nekromantik" Buttgereit tackles one of society's greatest taboos, necrophilia, the sexual attraction to corpses.

In "Nekromantik", Bernd Daktari Lorenz plays Robert Schmadtke, a timid young man who works at "Joe's Streetcleaning Agency", a company that removes corpses from public areas after the police work is done. While Robert doesn't really enjoy his work, it's the ideal position for him as Robert enjoys collecting body parts and organs, which he takes to his apartment with his girlfriend Betty (Beatrice Manowski), who also shares Rob's fascination with the dead. One day, a body is found in the river, and Robert is left alone to dispose of the body. Seeing this as a one in a million opportunity, Robert decides to steal the body and takes it home, where an excited Betty welcomes the decaying body as the ultimate romantic gift. From then one, Rob and Betty have passionate sex with the corpse, in their necrophiliac version of a ménage a trois. However, things don't go well for long, as Rob is fired from his job after pissing off his boss (Harald Lundt) with his tardiness. A disappointed Betty decides to leave Rob for good, and takes her loved corpse with her, leaving Rob desperate and alone.

More an absurd (and quite black) comedy than a typical horror tale, "Nekromantik" is the story of a twisted mind who finds the delicate balance in which it exists shaken away when his equally disturbed girlfriend leaves him. Told from the point of view of its pathetic antihero, Rob, "Nekromantik" explores initially the disgusting yet initially harmless obsessions of the couple of perverts, pretty much limited to collecting body organs. Betty, perhaps the real necrophiliac of the two, is a very dominant woman while Rob is merely a sad, dependent and very twisted man looking for understanding. With this purpose, Robert gives Betty the ultimate expression of his love: a full corpse for her enjoyment. And when she prefers the corpse over him, to the desensitized Rob it means the loss of the only person in his life that had understood him, and the beginning of the path of destruction (or better said, self-destruction) that writers Jörg Buttgereit and Franz Rodenkirchen (his frequent collaborator) describe in the second half of the story.

And director Jörg Buttgereit doesn't really shy away from showing the twisted world of Robert and Betty in all its grotesque glory. From the initial sequence, Buttgereit shows his taste for the graphic display of guts and gore. The effects, by Jörg Buttgereit, Rodenkirchen and Lorenz himself, are of a pretty acceptable quality, considering the extreme low budget that the production had. In fact, it's actually amazing what Jörg Buttgereit achieves within the scope of his limitations, Like Buttgereit's earlier short films, "Nekromantik" was shot in 8 mm, and while the footage capture by cinematographer Uwe Bohrer is certainly crude, this is actually fitting given the grizzly subject matter. And about the necrophilia, director Jörg Buttgereit keeps things in the thin line between the oddly poetic and the blatantly exploitative. Buttgereit eroticizes the act in order to shock, and succeeds at it by juxtaposing the repulsive with the romantic, and all with a touch of absurd comedy that's fits nicely to the perverse mix.

Unfortunately, the lack of budget and experience is evident, particularly in the performances by the cast. Daktari Lorenz, who plays the film's antihero Robert, isn't actually that bad, but even when he does show real commitment to the project, his lack of experience betrays him from time to time. Beatrice Manowski, who plays his girlfriend Betty, delivers acting of a slightly inferior quality, a bit more artificial in her delivery, though she does manage to transmit the passionate emotions of her character. The rest of the cast is pretty mediocre at best, and while the vast majority of the remaining cast members play bit parts, it's evident that many of them weren't real actors. Harald Lundt, who plays Robert' boss Bruno is pretty stagy in his performance, and the same could be said of Colloseo Schulzendorf, who plays Joe, the owner of the company where Rob works. Certainly, the cast was made mostly of friends, which becomes evident when noticing that even director Jörg Buttgereit himself played a bit part as one of Rob's coworkers.

As can be imagined, "Nekromantik" is definitely not a film for the easy offended, as Jörg Buttgereit's transgressive film doesn't hold back in its grotesque visual imagery. And this is not a flaw, because by taking this exaggerated visual style, Buttgereit's vision remains close to his perverse touch of absurd comedy. In fact, the real flaw of the film is, oddly, the fact that it begins to lose steam as soon as the necrophilia aspect begins to be removed. What I mean is that as soon as Robert loses both his girlfriend and his corpse, the lonely mental deterioration that he suffers through the film's second half is considerably less interesting than the disturbing first half. With the couple element gone, Buttgereit's film loses the initial strength of his themes, loses its direction, and becomes a rambling sequence of events in which an increasingly insane Robert keeps moving around doing increasingly evil things. Certainly Robert's dehumanization is the center of the story, but Buttgereit's vision loses focus without Robert's female counterpart.

Infamous amongst cult films due to its graphic and often disgusting take on its taboo subject matter (which by the way, receives a more traditional approach in 1996's "Kissed"), Jörg Buttgereit's "Nekromantik" is an uncompromising horror film that truly live up to the title of "transgressive art". Jörg Buttgereit is not afraid of offending sensibilities with his film, and he succeeds in making a remorseless and bizarre study of a twisted mind. Certainly, the movie is lacking in the technical aspects (and the mediocre acting doesn't really help), but it's clear that "Nekromantik" is true to its director's very particular style. Absurd, revolting, bizarre and even hilarious at times, "Nekromantik" can be described by a multitude of adjectives, but typical is not one of them.


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