Nov 25, 2014

Sugar Bread and Whip

It must suck to be an enterprising young auteur filmmaker with a seemingly bright future who rejects a young man’s application for becoming your meager assistant director, only for that young man to later not only become more popular than you, but also the most popular, successful, and important filmmaker of your zeitgeist. Indeed, that is exactly what happened to German auteur Marran Gosov (Angel Baby, Wonnekloß), who probably had no idea that the young whippersnapper that wanted to be his AD, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, would go on to become the most important filmmaker of the post-WWII era and that his career would more or less fall apart during the early 1970s. The progeny of a Bulgarian father and a German mother (his birth name is ‘Tzvetan Marangosoff’) who originally wanted to be a painter but discovered that he more so enjoyed writing after penning a novel in prison after clashing with the commie Bulgarian government, Gosov relocated to West Germany in April 1960, in part due to his loathing of Soviet style Marxist authoritarianism, and eventually settled in Munich in 1964 where he directed the first of no less than 27 short films which he would make between 1964 and 1978. While most revered in the filmmaking world for his shorts (none of which are currently available anywhere, even in Germany, and can only be seen when they are occasionally shown in large German cities), Gosov also made an initially fruitful attempt at commercial filmmaking, ultimately directing five feature films, beginning with Engelchen - oder die Jungfrau von Bamberg (1968) aka Angel Baby, which was an extended reworking of the director’s short Sabine 18 (1967) about a little lady who wants to lose her virginity in a desperate attempt to win back her ex-boyfriend(?!) and was a surprise hit, and concluding with Wonnekloß (1972) aka Spiel mit Bulle, which was a huge flop that the auteur made the mistake of funding mostly with his own private savings. Thanks to a certain Nuremberg-based cinephile, who also provided what little info I was able to find on the filmmaker, I was recently able to see the Gosov’s second feature Zuckerbrot und Peitsche (1968) aka Sugar Bread and Whip aka Gangster Love which, like the director’s first feature Angel Baby and the third feature The Sex Adventures of a Single Man (1968) aka Bengelchen liebt kreuz und quer, was produced by prolific Dutch producer Rob Houwer, who is probably best known for producing the pre-Hollywood arthouse works of Paul Verhoeven like Turkish Delight (1973), Soldier of Orange (1977), and The Fourth Man (1983), and who also produced important New German Cinema works like Peter Fleischmann’s anti-Heimat flick Hunting Scenes from Bavaria (1969) aka Jagdszenen aus Niederbayern and Mike Verhoeven’s undeniably amateurish yet gritty anti-Vietnam War artsploitation flick O.K. (1970) featuring Fassbinder superstar Eva Mattes portraying a raped and murdered gook gal.

 Like his comrades Klaus Lemke (who appeared in Sabine 18 and whose screenplay Gosov reworked for his fourth feature Der Kerl liebt mich - und das soll ich glauben?), Gosov belonged to the largely forgotten ‘New Munich Group’, which was eventually eclipsed by New German Cinema, even though the former would influence filmmakers involved with the latter (especially Fassbinder, whose debut 1969 feature Love Is Colder Than Death is blatantly influenced by the NMG genre-warping style), with Sugar Bread and Whip being ‘typical’ of the movement as an overtly offbeat genre-defiling (anti)gangster flick set in a late-1960s ‘Swinging Munich’ backdrop of jaded jet-set degeneracy, darkly humorous libertine criminality, and doomful absurdist (anti)romance. Starring actor and fellow New Munich Group auteur Roger Fritz (Mädchen, Mädchen aka Girls, Girls, Mädchen... nur mit Gewalt aka The Brutes)—a handsome fellow that once resembled a sort of Teutonic Joe Dallesandro, except much taller, who is probably best known to American filmgoers for playing the treacherous mustached crypto-cocksucker traitor Lieutenant Triebig in Sam Peckinpah’s The Cross of Iron (1977)—and the star’s then real-life wife Helga Anders (Vojtech Jasný’s 1976 Heinrich Böll adaptation Ansichten eines Clowns aka Clowns), Sugar Bread and Whip is the darkly mirthful and audaciously absurd yet melancholic and Weltschmerz-rattled tale of a disillusioned cigarette ad model turned amateur drug dealer and murderous jewelry store robber who has a doomed fleeting romance with a young rich bitch of a fiercely frigid femme fatale with a reluctantly self-cuckolded husband who gets off to the idea of his much younger wife blowing other men, though he would never actually admit it. A film that will appeal to gangster film lovers and haters alike (personally, I couldn't care less about the subgenre), Gosov’s work is a potent reminder of how a bunch of relatively unknown Bavarian quasi-avant-gardists beat commie frog fanboy Jean-Luc Godard at his own game in terms of defiling and molesting Hollywood genre conventions.

Opening with a “pop art” montage of the antihero Roger Klaus (Roger Fritz) shooting his machinegun and then succumbing to imaginary bullets in an intentionally superficial and satirical advertisement-like scenario where the character’s robotic body movements resemble that of a mannequin in stop-motion, Sugar Bread and Whip immediately establishes an absurdist anti-realist tone that disguises a sort of foreboding melancholia that is just beneath the surface. The opening credit montage concludes with the revelation that “Even dead men smoke.” Indeed, Roger is a super suave but equally somber iconic model of a popular cigarette brand called “Top Ten,” though he personally likes to roll his own cigs, which he does before committing robberies.  Roger became a robber after becoming fed up with the fact that he is featured in ads with fancy cars and villas yet he does not actually own these status symbols in real-life, thus he has taken upon himself to obtain his own Bavarian version of the American dream.  As a hashish abuser, Roger may have also had the idea to start strong-arming jewelry stores and banks after suffering some sort of drug psychosis.  At the beginning of the film, Roger enters a jewelry store while sporting a trench coat and ski mask, smashes all the glass display cases, steals all the best jewelry, and then shoots the store clerk when he makes the mistake of attempting to press the robbery alarm. The robbery is witnessed by a spoiled and sexually frigid pixie-like broad named Helga Arnold (Helga Anders), who lies to the police and tells them that the robber hit her while withholding the fact that said robber dropped a small musical instrument, which she decides to keep as a souvenir. Helga is married to a stinking wealthy art dealer/gallery owner named Robert Arnold (actor and sometimes TV director Harald Leipnitz of the 1965 Kraut-Yugoslav western The Oil Prince aka Der Ölprinz and exploitation trash like Franz Antel’s “Sexy Susan” series), with whom she bore a young lederhosen-adorned son that she rarely acknowledges aside from when she is giving violent puppet shows inspired by Roger's robberies. Since hubby Robert, who seems more interested in seeing his spouse being defiled by other men than doing the job himself, will not have sex with her, Helga derives most of her pleasure from playing with her beloved tortoise Markus, whose shell she likes petting while she is lying naked on a fancy fur rug. It does not take Helga long to realize that she also derives pleasure from seeing Roger commit blood-splattered bank robberies.

When not shooting cigarette advertisements where he declares “Love the French way, smoke the English way” and avoiding two gangster brothers, scar-faced sadist Jörg (Jörg Jung of Roland Klick’s brutal 1968 cult classic Bübchen and Hans W. Geissendörfer’s 1970 ‘anti-Heimat’ Dracula reworking Jonathan) and big buffoon Helmut (Helmut Hanke), Roger is attempting to bang Helga, who is aroused by his criminality but is too much of a spoiled ice queen to let the model turned coldblooded murderer penetrate her posh pussy. Meanwhile, Helga’s husband Robert seems to be taking as much interest in his wife’s non-romance with Roger as she does. The closest Roger even comes to sharing carnal knowledge with Helga is slapping her on the face and feeling up her tits while she ‘attends’ his various robberies, where the model/murderer senselessly kills at least one person because he knows it turns on his would-be ladylove. Meanwhile, Roger literally and figuratively dodges the bullets of the two gangster brothers who want revenge against the cigarette model for killing their third brother. Apparently, the gangster family began stalking Roger after he confronted the men because they owed him money for 50,000 marks worth of hashish he fronted to them and killed one of the brothers after brother Jörg began shooting at him. As a result of ‘scarface’ Jörg’s erratic behavior, Roger also ends up killing brother Helmut in a parking garage shootout after the brother makes the mistake of shooting at the model while he has a gun pointed at the fat bro’s head.  Notably, two young cap-gun-wielding preteen brothers witness the shootout in a scenario that seems to highlight the fact that gangster live in a perpetual state of childhood

Eventually, Roger gets tired of Helga’s perennial cockteasing, calls her a “little bitch,” and tells her to fuck off. Of course, that does not stop Helga’s husband Robert from hounding Roger after seeing his wife getting all hot and bothered while watching the murderous model mug one man and shoot another. Just to fuck with Robert, Roger lies and tells him that he has been screwing Helga when he asks, which ultimately turns the art dealer on so much that he goes home and screws his wife while asking her for details about her nonexistent extramarital affair. Although too seemingly borderline retarded to be a successful femme fatale (her hubby does not call her a “bird brain” for nothing), Helga comes up with a plan to get away from her husband and run away with Roger. After attempting to make up with Roger by telling him “I like you,” Helga reveals that her husband is having a big gallery showing that will be attended by various wealthy politicians and industrialists and their wives. While proclaiming to Helga that he has quit the armed robbery trade and is planning to move to England where he will make a living continuing to model, Roger shows up to the art show in his trademark ski mask, robs all the patrons, and shoots Robert dead when he makes a pathetic and rather anticlimactic attempt to stop him. Before being blown away with a machine-gun, Robert demonstrates ‘Entartete Kunst’ is once again vogue in Germany by giving a speech on the so-called “art of the fantastic” and and Swiss-German painter Paul Klee (whose use of dry humor seems to have influenced auteur Gosov). Upon getting in his getaway car after the robbery, Roger finds Helga sitting in the passenger seat and while the two are almost gunned down by surviving gangster brother Jörg, the two go home and finally commence coitus in what should be a happy ending. Of course, since Roger has yet to obtain passports to get him and his ladylove out of the country, the two still have plenty of time for their budding love affair to be destroyed by the last remaining gangster, Jörg. After proclaiming their “like” for one another, Helga leaves Roger’s flat and discovers a newspaper about her husband’s death in the art gallery, so she decides to screw over her lover by calling the police, but just before she does, Jörg catches her and takes her hostage. Ultimately, Roger is killed in his Aubrey Beardsley painting adorned flat after Jörg shoots him in the eye after he looks through the peephole of his front door upon Helga showing the gangster where her boy toy lives. In the end, Helga, like all femme fatales and most women in general, is left unscathed and goes back to her deceased husband’s fancy mansion.

 Unquestionably, what virtually all the filmmakers associated with the New Munich Group of the late-1960s/early-1970s had in common was that they tended to direct laidback yet nihilistic and quasi-avant-garde counterculture-tinged (anti)gangster/film noir flicks that seemed to have just as much contempt as respect for the Hollywood films that they sardonically mimicked. Out of these films, which include such mostly forgotten kraut cult classics as Rudolf Thome’s Detektive (1969) and Rote Sonne (1970) aka Red Sun and Klaus Lemke’s 48 Stunden bis Acapulco (1967) aka 48 Hours to Acapulco, Gosov’s Sugar Bread and Whip is clearly the most innately anarchistic, culturally cynical, and melancholy, which is probably at least partially due to the director’s real-life dystopian roots as a bastard Bulgarian-German son of Soviet-led bolshevism who seemed no less disillusioned by the American style capitalism that he encountered in West Germany as his films hint at. Indeed, aside from Thomas Schamoni's sole feature Ein großer graublauer Vogel (1971) aka A Big Grey-Blue Bird, Gosov's film is certainly the the most idiosyncratic, decidedly dope-addled, and obscenely offbeat gangster film of the New Munich Group. After his fifth and final feature Wonnekloß flopped, Gosov went back to directing shorts and worked in television before becoming solely a musician who created musical scores for largely queer films, including the Rosa von Praunheim flicks Horror Vacui (1984), A Virus Knows No Morals (1986), and Affengeil (1990), as well as Sapphic filmmakers Elfi Mikesch and Monika Treut's sadomasochistic arthouse effort Seduction: The Cruel Woman (1985) aka Verführung: Die grausame Frau. The fact that Gosov would go on to write music for New German Cinema/New Queer Cinema filmmakers certainly acts as a metaphor for how Fassbinder and his NGC comrades would more or less erase the New Munich Group from cinema history. Notably, Sugar Bread and Whip star Roger Fritz would go on to star in a couple Fassbinder flicks, including Despair (1978), Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), Lili Marleen (1981), and Querelle (1982). As for Gosov, I bet he regrets not giving Fassbinder that assistant director job.

-Ty E

Nov 24, 2014

Landscape Suicide

Like most people, I am, to a certain extent, intrigued by murderers and serial killers, especially in regard to their psychological makeup, but I also cannot stand phony films like overrated cinematic artisan David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) and Hebraic hack Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon (2002) that glorify bat-shit crazy ‘manhunters’ and more or less portray them as ‘misunderstood geniuses” whose ostensible ‘Übermensch’ image somewhat absolves them of their aberrant actions. In short, I hate when films, be they big budget Hollywood trash or otherwise, attempt to less than cleverly manipulate me into feeling a certain way about something, especially when it is in regard to something as sensational as serial killers, who, along with black gangster thugs, Jewish white collar criminals, scatological Semitic frat boys, and scheming morally retarded whores, have became the ultimate cinematic antiheroes. Thankfully, I recently discovered what is arguably the most objective film ever made—be it fictional and documentary—on coldblooded murders and serial killers, Landscape Suicide (1987) directed by experimental sub-underground auteur James Benning (Him and Me, North on Evers), who is a rare, truly proletarian America avant-garde voice that does not need buckets of blood, tedious torture-porn scenes, or even a single murder scene to make a chilling point about manhunters. Described as a ‘minimalist’ and ‘structuralist’ by various reviewers and film theorists, Benning seems like a fellow who has never seen a single Hollywood film, let alone a horror flick, and has no interest in entertaining anyone except himself. Certainly no trust fund brat or autistic art fag, the filmmaker grew up in a rough German-American working-class community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where sons were forced to fight their cousins, so it is only natural that the auteur would direct a film about fellow Wisconsin Amero-kraut Ed Gein, whose father was of German extraction and whose beloved mother was the progeny of Prussian immigrants. A man whose works have been heavily influenced by American realist paintings and photography, Benning's Landscape Suicide attempts to conjure up the atmosphere and physical environment that might have inspired Gein, as well as suburban California teenaged killer Bernadette Protti, who brutally stabbed to death her ‘friend’ Kirsten Costas in 1984, to kill. An avant-garde quasi-docudrama where the viewer is forced to act as an investigative reporter and sightseeing tourist in being confronted with two ‘classic’ murders that are as American as apple pie that took place about 30 years apart, Benning’s demystifying doc is like a living postcard featuring excerpts from court transcriptions as specially chosen by the director, who seems to place a special premium on the killer’s sexual hangups and mental illnesses. Psycho killer Americana in static 16mm form, Landscape Suicide is apparently the director’s most ‘accessible’ work to date but I doubt that it would appeal to a single one of the sort of true crime fanboys that have serial killer calendars and sport Jeffery Dahmer t-shirts; yet, due to its ‘idiosyncratic’ and quite pathological structure and style, I would not be surprised if someone told me the film was directed by an actual serial killer. A work of seeming cultural pessimism and cynicism directed by a man that seems to hate the suburbs and sees rural Wisconsin as a cultural and spiritual void inhabited by the radio broadcasted noise of carny-like evangelist preachers and the malignant spread of pop-‘culture’ TV trash magazines like Rolling Stone and yellow journalism newspapers, Landscape Suicide ultimately makes murder seem like a temporary relief from the banality of American life. 

 Beginning in a rather banal fashion with a couple minutes of a woman playing tennis by herself that concludes with a shot of dozens of tennis balls lying on a tennis court, Landscape Suicide immediately gives the impression that life in the suburbs, as unbelievably banal and bourgeois as it is, is no way to live. From there, an off-screen narrator reveals that on June 23, 1984, a 15-year-old high school girl from a suburb in Orinda, California was stabbed to death on her neighbors' front porch by a teenage suspect that was “chunky but not fat with shoulder-length light brown hair driving a gold or yellow older model Pinto that appeared to be in poor running condition.” The suspect was the girl’s would-be-friend Bernadette Protti, who killed her classmate after she rejected a ride home from her. As revealed by crime case records featured in the film, Protti had a “low frustration tolerance despite a higher than average intelligence” and “despite often misleading, overt heterosexual behavior, there may be evidence of unusual suppression of her sexuality.” Stabbing Costas with an 18-inch butcher knife five times in front of at least one witness, Protti, who apparently “suffers from an inferiority complex” and “lacks remorse” in regard to her crime, was thought to have not committed premeditated murder due to “the lack of sophistication in the execution of the crime.” In the ‘docudrama’ section of the Protti segment, a one-time actress named Rhonda Bell that looks more like victim Costas than her jealous executioner, portrays the teen guidette killer in a fashion that totally reeks of mundane mental derangement. Among other things, Protti seems hopelessly self-absorbed and only agrees to talk after the off-screen interviewer assures her that, due to being underage, her name won’t be leaked to the press. As to how a teenage girl can deal with being a killer, Protti stoically states that she is, “really good at blocking it out of my mind and still am […]…it doesn’t feel real.” After killing her comrade, Protti took her dog for a walk as if nothing happened, stating of her incapacity to accept her dirty deed, “after, I was trying to get out of it by not saying it was me but I really feel it wasn’t me. It was weird, it was the weirdest feeling I’ve ever had. It was exactly like I was watching it. I was hurting her but…then I was thinking, I wonder what happened to her…and that’s when I got home. I didn’t know if she was dead or alive.” Although decrying “popularity” and “friends” as stupid, Protti attempts to blame her actions on “inferiority” problems as a result on not getting on the cheerleading team or being accepted into the yearbook club. When questioned if she has any lesbo tendencies, Protti flatly denies it in a fashion that seems somewhat suspect. After the interview, an off-screen narrator portraying Protti’s mother reveals that everyone wanted to “strangle” Costas’ killer, but they had a change of heart when the real killer was discovered. 

 Like with the Protti case, the friends and family of Ed Gein were rather surprised when they discovered he was a ‘cross-dressing’ necrophiliac killer that liked to wear rotten vaginas over his seemingly virginal genitals. When he was asked by a fellow named Wilimovsky why he painted one of his victim’s vaginas with aluminum paint, Gein replied, “It was getting a greenish color. I put the paint over to the see if that would preserve it.” Gein also had no problem revealing to Wilimovsky that he castrated his own cock, hence why he draped a putrid postmortem pussy over what remained of his pecker. In what is probably the most glaringly and inexplicably ‘anti-realist’ segment of the film, Gein is portrayed as a rather robust and swarthy little man named Elion Sucher who looks more like a donut-addicted Israeli pawnshop owner than a deranged Germanic dude from rural Plainfield, Wisconsin with murderous mommy issues in a docudrama scene depicting the killer’s Feburary 20, 1968 court testimony in the Waushara County Courthouse in Wautoma, Wisconsin. While confessing to killing a woman named Mary Hogan who disappeared from her cabin in 1954, Gein does not own up to killing Plainfield hardware store owner Bernice Worden on November 16, 1957 despite the fact that her mutilated and decapitated corpse was found hanging in his shed upside, with the victim’s torso being “stretched out like a deerskin.” Like with Hogan, Gein took a special interest in Worden because she superficially resembled his mother, whose death in late 1945 inspired him to dig up elderly female corpses and engage in “insane transvestite rituals” with them. In a rather cynical conclusion to Landscape Suicide that some might find to be a poor taste, a hunter commits an unsimulated butchering and disemboweling of a deer in a fashion quite similar to how Gein carved up and hung Mrs. Worden. I just hope Benning was not attempting make some sort of heavy-handed PETA-approved “meat is murder” message in what ultimately makes for a grotesquely fitting conclusion to a darkly understated film. Indeed, I think this final scene emphasizes the brutality of cold rural midwestern living and the fact that slaughtering and gutting a deer would probably not be all that different from doing the same to a human. 

 Out of all of the films I have ever seen, the only one that comes even close to resembling the ‘aesthetic’ essence of James Benning’s Landscape Suicide is South African auteur Aryan Kaganof’s experimental feature Ten Monologues from the Lives of the Serial Killers (1994), which takes a similar ‘avant-garde docudrama’ approach in featuring actors reciting the words of infamous killers like Edmund Emil Kemper, Ted Bundy, and Charles Manson. In its obsessive use of static shots of picturesque rural America and art fag style use of mixed media, especially magazines, the film also begs for comparison with the collage-based quasi-doc works of queer auteur William E. Jones, like Massillon (1991) and Finished (1997). Additionally, Landscape Suicide would certainly float the boat of fans of crippled American filmmaker/film theorist Stephen Dwoskin (Dyn Amo, Central Bazaar), whose approach to documentary filmmaking is at least equally thematically and aesthetically subversive, as if both men could not make a ‘populous’ film if their life depended on it. Indeed, for all those that have seen all the Gein-inspired films like Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho (1960), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Alan Ormsby’s Deranged (1974), Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and the horrid In the Light of the Moon (2000) aka Ed Gein, Benning’s flick is like a kick to the skull in slow-motion, as a work that not only deconstructs the Gein movie mythos, but demands that the viewer meditate on the most mundane aspects of the criminal case, which was clearly the director’s intention. Indeed, as the docudrama comes to an end, an off-screen narrator recites the following words from a girl that grew up in Gein's town, “I was 14-years-old when Bernice Worden was killed […] I was walking home from […] junior high school when I saw the headline on the Milwaukee Sentinel: 'Cannibalism in Wisconsin.' Mrs. Worden’s heart was found in the soft pan on the stove, but cannibalism was never substantiated,” thus highlighting the senselessly sensational tactics of the media on what was already obviously a sensational story. Of course, Landscape Suicide does the opposite of the newspaper headline by dwelling on not only the mundane nature of murder, but life in general as depicted in the various long still shots of landscapes and seemingly endless scenes of people engaged in everyday ‘suburban’ activities like playing tennis and talking on the phone. One also cannot forget that the film features a shot of a Rolling Stone magazine featuring ostensibly pretty, fake Hollywood actors John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis on the cover, as well as an intentionally humorous radio sermon from Jerry Falwell where the good reverend bashes Carl Sagan, thus underscoring the fact that American (anti)culture is as cold, barren, and inhospitable as its landscapes. In that sense, Benning’s film is as authentically ‘American’ as imaginable, as a work where the landscapes are the true characters and the void is penetrable. Indeed, after the watching the film, I was not asking myself why Protti and Gein did what they did, but why there are not more people like them. Of course, like everything else, in America, murder is committed more so for monetary reasons, with people like Protti and Gein being the exceptions, hence their interest to people. For fans of Herzog's masterpiece Stroszek (1977), which was also shot in Gein's hometown Plainfield, Wisconsin and inspired by the Bavarian auteur filmmaker's interest in the German-American serial killer (notably, Herzog intended to dig up Gein's mother's grave with documentarian Errol Morris, but the latter chickened out and never showed up), Landscape Suicide also makes a splendid and somewhat sinisterly scenic companion piece as a strangely visceral yet paradoxically oftentimes boring work that attempts to enter the real ‘heartland’ of America that Hollywood has always seen fit to ignore.

-Ty E

Nov 22, 2014

Black Jesus (1968)

When it comes to Blaxploitation cinema, I tend to only like the serious and mostly negro-directed films that do not actually belong to the subgenre, but are labelled as such for the sake of convenience. Indeed, despite being Afrocentric black power works with vague ‘arthouse’ pretenses that were made "for us, by us," Melvin Van Peebles’ pioneering work Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) and Bill Gunn’s semi-experimental metaphysical negro vampire flick Ganja & Hess (1973) are labeled Blaxploitation flicks simply because they are politically incorrect and provide the viewer with a taste of the ‘exotic primitive.’ Of course, Blaxploitation cinema only became mainstream after Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song became an unexpected success and inspired the Hebrews in Hollywood, along with exploitation hacks like Roger Corman, to capitalize off of the phenomenon and begin churning out works that ultimately negatively affected Afro-America by perpetrating negative stereotypes and glorifying criminality, lechery, and debauchery. As far as I can tell, the only non-white filmmakers of the late-1960s/early-1970s that attempted to give any sort of authentic voice to the black world were the Italians and French, with Jean-Luc Godard’s Rolling Stones documentary Sympathy for the Devil (1968) aka One Plus One and Guido artsploitation Alberto Cavallone’s debut feature Le salamandre (1969)—an iconoclastic Frantz Fanon-inspired agitprop piece disguised as a sexploitation flick featuring a ménage-à-trois between a Swedish-American blond bombshell, a black model, and a middle-aged French psychoanalyst—being more notable representations of this largely forgotten about and rather ‘idiosyncratic’ phenomenon. Unquestionably, one of the most bizarre and seemingly unbelievable examples of Italian style black power is the epic filmic fable Black Jesus (1968) aka Seduto alla sua destra aka Out of Darkness aka Seated at His Right aka Super Brother directed by Valerio Zurlini (La ragazza con la valigia aka Girl with a Suitcase, Il deserto dei tartari aka The Desert of the Tartars). Advertised in the United States with majorly misleading tag lines like, ”BLACK JESUS has black power!” and “he who ain’t with me—is AGAINST me,” Zurlini's Black Jesus is an excellent example of the superlatively sleazy talent of American exploitation film distributors to pass off art as fuming filmic feces.

Originally intended as a segment of the Italian-French omnibus film Amore e rabbia (1969) aka Love and Anger—a somewhat uneven work featuring segments directed by Pasolini, Godard, Bertolucci, and Bellocchio, among others—Zurlini’s film was eventually expanded into a brutal biblical depiction of the torture and execution of Congolese independence leader and pan-African revolutionary Patrice Lumumba, a man described by Malcolm X as “the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent” and who was the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo, only to be deposed twelve weeks later during the Congo Crisis and executed a little over four months after that. Directed by a man who was described as “the Poet of Melancholy,” and mostly directed relatively apolitical melodramas, the film is indubitably an oddity in Zurlini’s oeuvre and certainly in more ways than one, as a serious film that bombed at the box-office and was re-released in America during the 1970s in ‘grindhouse' theaters under titles like ‘Black Jesus’ and ‘Super Brother’ and marketed as a sensationally violent and racially-charged exploitation flick to capitalize off of the popularity of Blaxploitation films. Starring black American decathlete/football star turned Hollywood actor Woody Strode (Spartacus, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) as the Christ-like Lumumba figure and sub-proletarian Pasolini actor Franco Citti (Accattone, The Godfather) as a meek thief who befriends and comforts the protagonist when the two end up sharing a cell in a hellish-like prison that more resembles a medieval torture chamber, Black Jesus is sort of like an ‘arthouse-BlaxploItalian’ precursor to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) in terms of its ultra-violent emphasis on the eponymous lead’s gruesome martyrdom. Part quasi-Marxist hagiography, part pioneering torture-porn flick, part ‘arthouse’ fable, part prison-based chamber piece, and part dichotomous meditation on love and hatred, Black Jesus is what you might expect if the bastard progeny of Gillo Pontecorvo and Luchino Visconti was hired to shoot a biblical epic in the holy land about the crucifixion of Christ, but instead decided to travel further south to the Dark Continent and make a pseudo-Fanonian war-melodrama hybrid about Lumumba instead.

Maurice Lalubi aka ‘Black Jesus' (Woody Strode) is a perennially wandering Christlike pan-African revolutionary who moves from town to town spreading the gospel of African liberation and, as such, the new ostensibly black-run government wants to have him liquidated immediately. Lalubi is confident that he will survive as he cannot imagine one of his loyal peasant followers selling him out to the white man, but he does not realize that he has a scheming Judas among his leadership. Indeed, for whatever reason (his motivations are never explained), this Black Judas tells the ‘Colonel’ (Belgian actor Jean Servais of Jules Dassin’s Rififi (1955) and the Darryl F. Zanuck produced 1962 WWII epic The Longest Day)—a Dutchman hired by the Congolese government to hunt down the revolutionary—the whereabouts of Lalubi and even provides him a map of the entire area, but he is not awarded with any money in return. When negro Judas refuses to tell the Colonel why he has decided to betray his leader, the military commander becomes so enraged that he states, “this is a country of liars…you lie when you baptize your children.” Of course, Lalubi is soon captured and he does not even bother to resist arrest, but not before the white soldiers kill all the villagers in their area and senselessly burn down their homes. Upon being brought to a local prison, which is really just a makeshift torture chamber that is run by thugs and sadists, Lalubi gives a knowing smirk to a white prisoner named ‘Oreste’ (Franco Citti), who has been arrested for stealing an army truck and selling it to some of Black Jesus’ revolutionary disciples. While Lalubi is a relatively famous and powerful black man, Oreste is quite the opposite as a loser white lumpenprole who dropped out of school at age 9 and has done a variety of degrading jobs, including “rough trade for homos” and “even served mass,” among other things. As two men that are routinely tortured by boorish Belgian thugs and who face the very real prospect of death, Lalubi and Oreste will become extremely close other the next day or so.

Not long after arriving at the prison, Lalubi is sent to the office of the Colonel who attempts to pick the negro revolutionary’s brain to see what makes him tick and to judge the true quality of his character. Lalubi pleads in a discernibly worried fashion, “Let me go, Colonel…I have a feeling that something serious is about to happen to me,” to which the commander replies, “that depends on how you answer my questions." When the Colonel asks the revolutionary to reveal information on his black nationalist comrades, Lalubi denies he has any and explains that he merely gives speeches to people and these people in turn spread these ideas from village to village. In fact, Lalubi goes so far as describing himself as a “pacifist,” adding, “I’m not a man of war and I hate violence.” Lalubi also has no sympathy for the white victims of his political ideas, callously remarking when the Colonel mentions that a group of his disciples tortured, skinned, and killed two of his soldiers, “you can tell their mothers that they died here and not in Belgium,” thus reflecting his belief that not a single cracker should be in Africa. The Colonel is so offend by Lalubi's rather cavalier remark that he responds in an equally ruthless manner by stating, “You mean we should have remained at home? When white men abandon these countries, what happens? I’ll tell you…They shed enough blood to overflow the rivers of the Congo.” After revealing that he is neither Belgian or French, but an old Dutchman who feels lost, tired, and homesick for his home city of Amsterdam, the Colonel offers to spare Lalubi’s life if he merely signs a document ordering his followers to put down their arms and give up their murderous attempts at revolt, but the pan-African messiah refuses to even read it, let alone sign it. After that, the Colonel gives Lalubi an hour to think it over, or else he will face immediate torture that night and death the next day. Of course, Lalubi has no intention of signing the document and is merely biding his time until he is executed.

While waiting the 60 minutes that will ultimately result in him being tortured at the hands of young sadistic Belgian soldiers whose only form of solace is torturing and killing the negroes that want to torture and kill them, Lalubi gets to know Oreste who, due to his sorry lot in life and lack of education, is essentially a “white nigger” who is not even worthy of kissing the black power advocate’s boots. Needless to say, Oreste is quite taken aback by the fact that another person, especially one who is as famous as Lalubi, would ever want to get to know him. Knowing they are both doomed to an unspeakable fate, Lalubi and Oreste try to make the most of their hour of peace together. At the end of their talk, Oreste somewhat pathetically asks the revolutionary, “say now, when you get important, will you remember me?,” to which Lalubi replies, “I promise you…Oreste…when we get out, we will meet again and we will be a lot happier.” At the end of their talk, Lalubi thanks Oreste with the utmost sincerity for “making that hour go by so quickly.” Of course, after refusing to sign the document when the hour is over, Lalubi is tortured so badly that he can neither walk nor see when the odious ordeal is over. Like J.C., Oreste also has nails driven through his hands. Meanwhile, one of the Belgian soldiers is arrested and put in the jail cell with Oreste, who attempts to make small talk with the new prisoner (Stephen Forsyth), but he acts like a total asshole and says nothing. When broken, beaten, and blind Lalubi is brought back to the cell, Oreste becomes hysterical and tries in vain to comfort his new friend. Hoping to ease Lalubi’s suffering, Oreste calls for a prison guard and offers him ten pornographic photos if he brings him back a mess tin full of oil to treat the revolutionary’s wounds. While Oreste receives the pseudo-medicine, a senseless fight with the seemingly half-deranged soldier prisoner results in the oil being spilled on the floor.

In easily the most subversive and racially-charged segment of Black Jesus, the Colonel has a heated conversation with the puppet leader of the Congo, who is clearly modeled after Belgium-U.S.-backed Congo leader Joseph-Desiré Mobutu that had the real Lumumba liquidated. While the Colonel has second thoughts about having Lalubi executed, the Mobutu character threatens to take away his job while rubbing it in his face that he is now a deracinated man without a nation by remarking regarding his European homeland that it is, “an almost forgotten land…and one that most certainly has forgotten you.” When the Colonel states regarding Lalubi, “Let us make no martyrs…it would be better,” Mobuti remarks that the Christlike leader “has a great deal of charm” but that his people will soon forget him because, “We are not white men. Our people are much more simple and direct. They accept what they see…believe in a man because he is there, not because he was there. Believe me, Colonel, eliminating a black leader is child’s play.” Of course, the Colonel finally gives into Mobuti’s demands when he replies regarding Lalubi’s next day execution, “We ourselves will supply the executioner if that will ease your conscience.” Not surprisingly, the Judas “Uncle Tom” who sold Lalubi out is now one of Mobuti’s aides.

The next morning, the Belgian soldiers put Lalubi, Oreste, and the soldier in a prison truck and drive them to a remote building in ruins. While Oreste pretends that the Belgian soldiers are “nice guys” who mean them no harm, Lalubi has already accepted his death and accepts it stoically. Indeed, Lalubi is marched into the building where he meets a negro with a dagger who drives it into his gut. Seemingly because he is jealous that another black man gets to kill the great black nationalist leader, the main Officer (Pier Paolo Capponi of Francesco Rosi’s classic 1970 WWI flick Uomini conTRO aka Many Wars Ago and Dario Argento’s 1971 giallo The Cat o’ Nine Tails) finishes Lalubi off with a submachine gun. When Oreste hears the gunshot blasts from outside, he manages to escape from the Belgian soldiers after attacking them and runs inside the building where he finds Lalubi’s still warm corpse. Of course, it is only a matter of seconds before the Officer catches up with Oreste and liquidates him. Not satisfied with killing Lalubi and his white cuckold, the Officer also kills the soldier prisoner so there will be no witnesses, even though the unlucky fellow is one of his comrades and racial kinsman. While driving back to the prison, the soldiers spot a young negro and the Officer complains, “damn, another prisoner” and commands the lad to come to him but he runs away. Naturally, the soldiers start firing at the boy, but somewhat inexplicably, he manages to get away in an allegorical scene that seems to reflect that director Zurlini was a tad bit too optimistic in regard to the Congo’s future.

Despite the film’s quasi-Marxist black power message, Black Jesus ultimately depicts a curious character who calls himself a pacifist but whose words of collectivist race-hate and class warfare have resulted in the worst kinds of atrocities, including the skinning and burning of people while still alive, among virtually every other form of ‘cheap’ torture that is accessible in the third world. Unquestionably, the protagonist's greatest sin is lurking from village to village to spread his message while knowing damn well that these villages will be treated with an extermination-based ‘scorched earth’ policy. Additionally, the Dutch Colonel character that has the protagonist captured and sentenced is also treated in a somewhat sympathetic fashion, as he is depicted as a troubled old man who suffers major guilt and tries to spare Lalubi’s life but cannot because he is merely a pawn in the game and a military bureaucrat who really has no power and can only carry out orders from his superiors like any ‘loyal’ military man. Notably, star Woody Strode would go on to describe his role in Black Jesus as the most challenging of his career, which is something that spaghetti western maestro Sergio Leone noticed as he subsequently hired the American actor to star in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). If the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, which Zurlini’s film was supposed to compete in, was not cancelled as a result of the so-called ‘May 1968 events in France’ as carried out by Trotskyites and their fellow far-left allies, Black Jesus might be better known today, which is somewhat ironic considering the political nature of the work. Luckily, despite its somewhat superficial Trotskyite sentiments, Zurlini’s flick actually has heart and does not feel like it was directed by some pedantic commie like Godard but rather a halfway sensible fellow who is, at the very least, more honest and objective than ardent crypto-agitprop hacks in Hollywood. Aside from Zurlini’s film, black Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck directed two films about Patrice Lumumba, including the documentary Lumumba: Death of a Prophet (1990) and the melodramatic biopic Lumumba (2000) starring Cameroonian-French negro Eriq Ebouaney as the eponymous lead, but, at least artistically speaking, Black Jesus will probably be the film about the martyrdom of the Congolese pan-African leader that will prove to stand the test of time. A film where only two of the characters have names and none of the characters' backgrounds are really ever disclosed, Black Jesus is ultimately a filmic fable featuring archetypes as opposed to a historically faithful biopic, thus giving the film a more timeless quality than some might suspect.  Indeed, as far as black nationalist biopics are concerned, while I don't plan to watch Spike Lee's deceptively mythmaking hagiography Malcolm X (1992) ever again unless I'm feeling terribly masochistic or I'm being forced to do so at gunpoint, I would not mind spending some time with Black Jesus in a couple decades from now.

-Ty E

Nov 21, 2014

Nothing Bad Can Happen

As the nation that produced arguably cinema history’s greatest and most ambitious female filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will, Tiefland), as well as numerous eclectic female art house and avant-garde auteur directors, including pioneering animator Lotte Reiniger (The Adventures of Prince Achmed, The Magic Flute), proto-feminist Ula Stöckl (Neun Leben hat die Katze aka The Cat Has Nine Lives, Geschichten vom Kübelkind aka Tales Of The Dumpster Kid), Sapphic surrealist and adventurer ethnologist Ulrike Ottinger (Freak Orlando, Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press), and subversive feminist Helma Sanders-Brahms (Heinrich, Germany, Pale Mother), among countless others, Germany (as well as its Germanic brother nation Austria, which produced aberrant auteuress Valie Export and cyber-dyke director A. Hans Scheirl, and Bulgarian-born iconoclastic avant-gardist Mara Mattuschka), the Teutonic Fatherland is incontestably the greatest producer of notable filmmakers of the ‘fairer sex,’ so I typically tend to be less dismissive when approaching flicks directed by kraut chicks as opposed to their American counterparts. Of course, considering the relatively sorry state of German cinema today, I am hesitant to watch any Teutonic films, let alone those directed by women, yet after hearing good things about 30-year-old Fräulein filmmaker Katrin Gebbe’s award winning debut feature Tore tanzt (2013) aka Nothing Bad Can Happen, I figured what the hell and learned soon after watching the flick that the Fatherland still has some of the most ferocious film directors in the entire world. A seemingly pathologically paced passion piece about a gawky young Christian punk cult member (or “Jesus Freak”) who goes on a decidedly deleterious Christ-like journey of the truly transcendental sort after becoming the unofficial member of an ‘evil’ untermenschen white trash family who, in the most vulgar and despicable ways imaginable, test his faith and determination to living the way Jesus did by “turning the other cheek,” no matter what the consequences, Gebbe’s paradoxically dejecting yet somewhat uplifting debut was apparently inspired by “true events,” as well as by the “purely positive” titular character of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic novel The Idiot (1869). 

 A work that seems more influenced by the transgressive arthouse works of directors associated with the so-called ‘New French Extremity’ like Philippe Grandrieux (Sombre, Un Lac) and Bruno Dumont (Twentynine Palms, Hors Satan), the Dogme 95 period works of Lars von Trier, and the proletarian-perpetrated horror of films like James Watkins’ Eden Lake (2008) and Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown (2011) than those associated with contemporary kraut film movements like the mostly banal ‘Berlin School’ (aka ‘Berliner Schule’) and the bombastic and pageantry-plagued films of so-called ‘neo-romantic’ filmmakers like Tom Tykwer, Nothing Bad Can Happen is certainly a fresh change of pace for German cinema, as an audacious low-budget work with a conflicted yet potent spirit that, despite its seemingly foreign influences, says a great deal about modern Germany and its post-WWII Volksgeist. Indeed, while largely a work about testing one’s faith in the face of the ultimate evil, the flick also tackles the oftentimes tragic Teutonic traditional of unwavering idealism which led to, among other things, the Protestant Reformation, the National Socialist revolution, the birth of New German Cinema (as outlined in the Oberhausen Manifesto of 1962), and the far-left terrorism of the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Of course, like the four above mentioned phenomena, Nothing Bad Can Happen also ends with death. A devastating depiction of a sort of patently pacifistic Christian (anti)Faustian man who sacrifices himself and finds a sort of redemption in the end, Gebbe’s three chapter modernist metaphysical horror show reminds the viewer why ‘arthouse’ is not always a synonym for banality, pretense, or asininity. 

 Tore (novice actor Julius Feldmeier in his first feature film) is a tall, blond, and blue-eyed Hallstatt Nordic Jesus addict (with unusually curly hair who somewhat resembles Martin Gore of Depeche Mode) who suffers from epilepsy and belongs to a Hamburg-based chapter of the punk rock Christian group the “Jesus Freaks” and he takes his recent baptism rather seriously and seems total incapable of negative thoughts and emotions, though one assumes that, like his fellow cult members, he comes from a broken home. Tore is best friends with a seemingly delinquent and destitute but equally Christ-crazed young man named ‘Owl’ aka ‘Eule’ (Daniel Michel of Florian Eichinger’s Nordstrand (2013)), who converted him to "Christcore" because Tore enjoys singing hardcore punk songs with lyrics like, “There’s only one way you can be saved. You must overcome your fear, and trust in god. Jesus, show me the way. I believe in you, and have no fear. What can man do to me?” and who, in typically Christ-like fashion, enjoys helping anyone that he can. One day, Tore and Owl attempt to help a family whose car has broken down by praying to Jesus to fix the folks' truck and somewhat magically, the Lord answers their prayers. Despite having seen a miracle of sorts performed on his GMC redneck truck engine, the patriarch of the family, Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak of the popular German TV series Tatort)—a small, swarthy, and stocky man with serious anger issues—doubts the power of “the Captain of the Universe”, but he takes up Tore’s offers to come by the local Jesus Freak bar/venue to hear the latest Christ-phile punk rock sermon. When Tore sees Benno at the Jesus Freak show while moshing like a spastic toddler to a holy punk band ‘Magic Messiah’, he suffers a seizure, so the patriarch picks him up, puts him in the back of his truck, and brings him back to the dilapidated trailer/shack of the lowbred sadomasochistic white trash family for which he will ultimately become a saintly Aryan yet avowedly masochistic sacrifice.

 Although initially a seemingly caring and friendly fellow who sometimes likes to use playful sarcasm to poke fun at Christ and Christianity, Benno soon begins showing his true, rather demonic self, especially after he becomes jealous of Tore’s totally harmless relationship with his 15-year-old tomboy stepdaughter Sanny (German pop/soul singer Swantje Kohlhof). Indeed, although Benno has two children, melancholy teen Sanny and a prepubescent boy named Dennis (Til-Niklas Theinert), neither of them are biologically his as they are from his wife Astrid’s (Annika Kuhl of Leander Haußmann’s Lehmann (2003) and Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)) previous relationship, thus he feels he has the right to rape his stepdaughter. When Tore shows up Benno upon giving Sanny a better present on her birthday (the Jesus Freak gives her an IPod and Benno gives her a giant stuffed kangaroo and a couple bucks!), the pernicious patriarch decides to punch the Christian in the face in front of all the partygoers. On top of that, Benno also makes Tore his personal slave, coercing him into handing over his welfare debit card and forcing him to do all his lazy wife’s domestic chores. The archetypical worthless whore mother in many ways, Astrid’s only objection to her husband raping her daughter is that she is jealous that he finds her progeny more attractive. As blatant (sub)human garbage who more or less squat in a Hamburg allotment garden (the family seems to be borderline homeless), Benno and Astrid soon begin resenting Tore due to his pure and untainted character and deep faith and employ various sadistic and craven methods in an attempt to break his faith. When Benno self-righteously states, “people always pray when they’re scared shitless” and Tore replies “courage is when you trust god,” the pernicious patriarch becomes so enraged he begins beating the Jesus Freak, who suffers a seizure as a result. While Tore attempts to go back to his Jesus Freak commune after suffering Benno’s psychopathic brutality, he discovers that the Hamburg branch of the cult has been closed and while his friend Owl offers to take him to Berlin, the warrior of Christ ultimately comes to the conclusion that he must go back to the untermensch family as a test from god, even proclaiming while praying to the Lord, “Jesus, I know Benno is my test.” Of course, judging by what Tore ultimately endures at the savage hands of Benno and his wife, one might assume that Christ was a scheming psychopath who got a kick out of completely destroying people for his own sadistic pleasure. 

 When Tore goes back to Benno’s less than humble abode, he is treated as if he is a non-person and someone that does not even exist. Indeed, on top of no longer being allowed to eat at the dinner table, Tore is no longer allowed to eat period, as Benno has his wife lock up all the food in cabinets in the shitty shack, so the Jesus Freak must resort to eating crumbs he finds around the house and digging through the trash. On top of that, Benno has his stepson Dennis regularly piss on Tore’s tent in the yard (indeed, even when the Jesus addict was in favor with the family, he was still forced to sleep outside). Only Sanny, who unsurprisingly unsuccessfully attempts to consummate coitus with the Jesus Freak (who is naturally “saving himself” until he is “married”), treats Tore with any respect, though she finds his pacifism and religious faith to be somewhat maddening. Of course, as Tore states to Sanny when she mocks religion, “If I don’t believe, I have nothing.” When Astrid discovers that Tore has “stolen” a rotten baked chicken carcass out of their trash which is now covered in maggots, Benno demands that his wife come up with a punishment for the near-starving Jesus junky, so she recommends that they force him to eat the rancid fowl corpse. Benno and Astrid restrain Tore and literally shove the rotten chicken meat down his throat while the patriarch fiendishly sings the children’s prayer, “god is great and god is good. And we thank him for our food” in a malevolently and maniacally mocking fashion, thus causing the Jesus Freak to become terribly ill to the point of being on the brink of death. Luckily, Sanny manages to sneak Tore out of her family’s dilapidated home and calls an ambulance after dropping him off at a train station. While Sanny tells Tore never to return, the Jesus Freak does just the opposite after recuperating in the hospital. While in the hospital, Tore hallucinates seeing a small Christ in a crucifix transforming into the real full-size J.C.—hemorrhaging hands and all—so he sees it is a sign that he must carryout his mission and return to bastard Benno for more tests of his selflessness and faith. Indeed, all of these brutal experiences have only reinforced his faith and and he seems to realize that going back to Benno will be a mission of no return, but he has a girl to save and a god to satisfy. 

 When Tore return to Benno’s home after his extended stay in the hospital, the patriarch gives him food and even lets him eat with the family again, but of course, the scheming little sadist has big plans for the hopelessly naive Jesus Freak. Indeed, one night Benno drives Tore to a homo whorehouse and sells the virgin's untouched bunghole to a nearly elderly ponytailed creep named Dieter (Uwe Dag Berlin of Oskar Roehler’s Quellen des Lebens (2013) aka Sources of Life and Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man (2014)), who brutally buggers the boy to the point where blood drips down his leg and goes down the drain when he takes a shower after being anally pillaged. Despite being regularly defiled by a truly dirty old man, Tore handles his beyond hellish circumstances like an ‘impenetrable’ champ and even seems to get comfortable with his most unfortunate circumstances. Of course, Tore’s stoicism towards being a slave to sadistic sodomy only all the more infuriates Benno, as he cannot seem to put even a small dent in the boy wonder’s faith. Determined to break Tore’s faith by allowing him the opportunity to get revenge, Benno forces the boy to sit on his stomach and smother his face with a pillow, but the Jesus Freak just cannot find it in himself to truly attempt to rightfully murder his perennial tormentor. When Sanny walks in on Tore feebly attempting to suffocate Benno with the pillow, she joins in and begins ruthlessly killing her stepfather with a sort of bestial passion of a slave who has finally gotten the opportunity to get back at their master. Determined not to allow her to fall into the forsaken existence of being a sinful murderer, Tore stops Sanny right before Benno is about to take his last gasp. Of course, Benno is enraged when he realizes that his stepdaughter/sex slave has tried to kill him, so he takes the girl’s beloved electric keyboard and nearly beats Tore to death with it. After that, Benno demands that his wife Astrid “deal” with Tore, so she and her equally bottom-feeding ghetto whore friend Cora (Nadine Boske) pull down his pants, put out their cheap cigarettes on his head, and begin spitting all over his face like they are sadistic toddlers. From there, Astrid begins crushing Tore’s genitals with a pair of stilettos she is wearing and utters the very real threat, “we can cut something off.” Needless to say, Tore meets a grizzly end, but in his own way, he carried out his Christ-like mission, with Sanny and her kid brother receiving another chance at life. As for Benno, he is even more hateful and resentful in the end, as a man who beat, raped, tortured, and starved the truly pure and innocent Jesus Freak, but never destroyed his spirit. 

 While one film critic has gone so far as to describe Nothing Bad Can Happen as being, “reminiscent of Lars von Trier at his most pessimistic,” Gebbe’s film ultimately has a much more hopeful message as the flick may portray the protagonist as a hopeless naive slave of Christ, but his Christ-like sacrifice not only enables him to obtain transcendence but also save the lives of two previously accursed children who would have never had any chance in life otherwise. Indeed, somewhat ironically, Tore—the slave-morality-ridden Christ fag fanboy who seems to suffer from both schizophrenia and Asperger snydrome—more or less fully implements a more metaphysical take on Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power by realizing his full potential in regard to his faith and majorly masochistic determination to “turn the other cheek.” Interestingly, Gebbe did not conceive of the religious angle of the film until later while writing the screenplay and she was not really aiming to make a film that critiques Christianity or wallows in callous von Trier-esque cynicism as most reviewers seem to believe, or as the auteur stated herself in a summer 2014 interview with The Moveable Fest: “I didn’t want to have answers to everything, but I felt it could be really interesting to put on one side a lot of darkness and have a really beautiful, super-perfect protagonist who’s very moral as a contrast. He would forgive everything, he would allow everything. He would be like a modern Jesus Christ or as we were also discussing it, a modern Gandhi or something like this, but I felt the Christian religion is something a lot of people know about.” Christianity aside, I think Gebbe’s ‘true believer’ brand of faith is quite typical in Germany and the rest of the Occident, albeit in a more ‘modern’ post-Christian humanist form. Indeed, the cultural marxist and multiculturalist true believers who insist on flooding their nations with largely hostile aliens from the third world despite the fact that multi(cult)uralism has proven to be an abject failure as indicated by the fact foreigners commit the vast majority of murders, rapes, and violent crimes in Europe and virtually all live on welfare demonstrates that these exceedingly ethnomasochistic Europeans subscribe to a sort of nihilistic post-Christian faith. After all, how else does one explain a feminist blaming white racism for the fact she was raped by an African negro or the fact a white European can receive more jail time for ostensibly ‘denying’ the holocaust than a gang of Arab teens would receive for gang-raping a white girl (not to mention the fact it was recently exposed that the British government tried to cover up that Pakistanis were running a massive 1,400-victim slavery ring mostly comprised of white girls ages 12-15). Indeed, when Tore states, “If I don’t believe, I have nothing,” it is a virtual metaphor for the post-counterculture Western/Central European mindset. Like Tore of Nothing Bad Can Happen, it seems these faithful ethno-masochists, which comprise the bulk of modern Europeans, will only be happy when they are raped, beaten, tortured, and bred out of existence and/or left for dead, for only then will their ‘post-racial’ utopia be fully realized. 

 Interestingly, the three chapters of Nothing Bad Can Happen—‘Faith’, ‘Love’, and ‘Hope’—also are the names of the films in Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl’s recent "Paradise” (aka Paradies”) trilogy, but as director Gebbe stated in the interview with The Moveable Fest, it was a mere coincidence, or as she explained: “It was not that we saw the films and thought, “Oh, he had a good idea.” [laughs] Later on, I heard about this trilogy and then I thought “Ack, this sucks.” But I wouldn’t change it because of Ulrich Seidl. He didn’t invent it. [laughs].” Although Gebbe’s film has some superficial aesthetic resemblances to Seidl's work, Nothing Bad Can Happen owes more to the the darkly transcendent films of French auteur filmmakers like Philippe Grandrieux and Bruno Dumont. A work that could have degenerated into a tedious torture-porn or a plodding Petzold-esque ‘arthouse’ turd if put in the wrong hands, the film demonstrates that Gebbe is a restrained yet empathetic filmmaker who knows how to horrify and deject without resorting to mindless shock gimmicks, as a rare modern day German filmmaker who is not afraid of emotion and does not bow down to political correctness. I am sure if misandristic feministic hack Margarethe von Trotta saw Nothing Bad Can Happen—a film where the white trash wife of the antagonist is just as bad, if nothing worse than her husband—she would denounce it as misogynistic.  Indeed, one can only hope that Gebbe has started a new post-feminist trend in German filmmaking where a female director is judged by her actual artistic talent as opposed to feminist polemics, pathological misandry, and artistic posturing. Unlike brazenly banal filmmakers associated with the Berlin School, Gebbe not only hopes to bring life, passion, and spirit back to Teutonic cinema, but also hopes that her countrymen stop masochistically dwelling on the past and, in turn, sacrificing their artistic potential out of irrational fear and creating more pointless beaten-to-death Vergangenheitsbewältigung garbage (sometimes I seriously wonder if German children are forced to recite kosher commie Adorno's 1949 dictum “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” each night before they go to bed), or as she stated herself in an interview with Peter Krausz: “In my mind, Germany is still a country which fears the past because of its history. I guess nobody wants to do something wrong. Everybody tries to fit in this sort of scheme. But the new challenge is about trying to experiment a little bit more. A new movement is developing. I’m sure that there is potential out there and I hope that we get the chance to see a lot of great work in the future.”  While Gebbe will probably never become the next Leni Riefenstahl, she has already proved that she has more testicular fortitude than 99% of her kraut male counterparts as a sort of female Matthias Glasner, albeit slightly less nihilistic. I might be being a tad bit optimistic, but Nothing Bad Can Happen almost gives me the ‘faith’ that Germany will soon have its next great cinema Renaissance since the New German Cinema era, with the assumedly not-too-faraway deaths of the von Trottas, Schlöndorffs, and the rest of the old leftist fart filmmakers being a most auspicious time for it to commence.

-Ty E