Aug 29, 2012

Zoo zéro

When not feuding with fellow mixed-blood German Werner Herzog on their various classic film collaborations – simultaneously playing the role of actor and as the filmmaker's own personal Rasputin – Polish-German actor Klaus Kinski appeared in a number of Euro-Sleaze exploitation and arthouse flicks, a good portion of which are forgotten and rightfully so, yet there a couple exceptions. Undoubtedly, the more irregular and incoherent the film, the more interesting Kinski’s performance tended to be as he always accentuated the already aberrant aura of the film. Personally, one of my favorite obscure Kinski flicks is the sorely neglected dystopian sci-fi arthouse flick Zoo zéro (1979) directed by unsung French auteur Alain Fleischer (Dehors-dedans, Rome Roméo), who would later (and somewhat ironically considering the nature of his previous works) have a relatively successful career in documentary filmmaking (Bernard Rapp's Un siècle d’écrivains TV series, Morceaux de conversations series). In a typically typecasted role, Kinski plays Yavé, a kinky megalomaniac who moonlights as a cabaret director at a post-apocalyptic night club/zoo. Undoubtedly a mental and verbal cripple, Yavé speaks through a vocoder, thus evoking the ambiance of a suavely dressed, Kraftwerk-esque fascistic dictator as a result. Opening with a narrated passage regarding the Noah’s Ark myth from the Book of Genesis and other (and eventually inaudible) esoteric gibberish, Zoo zéro hereafter begins with images of a dim, destitute, and drizzly street of a futuristic French neo-noir metropolis (that more resembles a necropolis) featuring a dark cabaret club named “Noah’s Ark.” On this night at the curious club, an androgynous cabaret singer named Eva (played by Catherine Jourdan) with a neon-orange butch cut gives a performance that is like a cross between Marlene Dietrich’s in Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930) aka Der blaue Engel and Charlotte Rampling’s deranged topless performance of a Dietrich song for concentration camp guards in Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (1974). Emotionally detached and literally robotic in her movements, Eva attempts to drown her sorrows by drinking wine straight out of the bottle and watering plants in her dressing room as an effete negro friend looks on with the most gravest concern. A mysterious, mumbling fellow named Ivo comes to visit Eva and reminds of her less debauched days as a dignified singer of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute in Salzburg, Austria but her wee midget manager “Uwe” (played by Pieral of the Cocteau-penned 1943 flick L'Éternel retour aka The Eternal Return and Buñuel final 1977 effort That Obscure Object of Desire) reminds her that the past is best left forgotten, especially when you’re questionable future is perpetually rotten.

Somewhat peculiarly but undoubtedly working in the film’s favor, Zoo zéro has a striking aesthetic resemblance to Ridley Scott’s Tech-noir masterpiece Blade Runner (1982) though more subdued, as do many of the lugubrious yet expressionistic characters in the film, but contained within such a relentless realm of Weltschmerz-inspiring dreariness that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the British director’s younger brother Tony watched this obscure French flick before jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Zoo zéro even concludes with a sort of “tears in the rain” sequence that anticipates the ending of Scott's classic Hollywood cyberpunk flick. Even more strangely, many of the indoor sequences with exotic zoo animals and soulless nihilistic erotic scenarios resemble and invoke a similar atmosphere to those featured in Tony Scott’s comparably stylized yet more slapdash, postmodern deathrock-inspired vampire flick The Hunger (1983), but Zoo zéro – with its sparse dialogue, lack of sympathetic characters, and deep-seated discordant structure – is ultimately a much less accessible work that does more to capture the spiritually and culturally-cadaverous apocalyptic zeitgeist of post-industrial Europa as foreordained by the likes of Spengler and Evola as opposed to infatuating over a couple of ancient aristocratic supernatural degenerates. Zoo zéro also contains an infecund fictional forthcoming that makes the dystopian reality featured in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) seem relatively modern and even quite tame, so it should be no surprise the film concludes in a manner echoing the iconic opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and the ending of Planet of the Apes (1968), albeit with all the more forlornness and unsentimentality. Like Ludwig van Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his work The Magic Flute, one of German composer’s most beloved achievements in his operatic repertoire, becomes a vague cultural remnant and a symbol of a moribund continent’s lost glory and complete and utter collective devitalization, hence why the lead protagonist merely reworks tired and decayed cabaret acts from (presumably) over a century ago in a New Wave form.

It goes without saying that Klaus Kinski looks quite dapper as Yavé, le directeur du zoo, as if he is the direct progeny of decadent German horror author Hanns Heinz Ewers, but like most people in the city, his future is predestined to desperation as mother nature and her animals reclaim the world for themselves. In a vague sense, Zoo zéro features a glimmer of hope and prospect for rebirth, at least as far as the earth in its entirety is concerned. Humans, the most conscious and cancerous of God’s creations, through their deluded self-worship and grandiose greed, have ushered in their own mass suicide so it is only fitting that Klaus Kinski would be directing an allegorical dirge for humanity’s (and his own) funeral; a theme he would later return to in his last film and directorial debut Kinski Paganini (1989). Transcendental, nonlinear, and nightmarish in structure like the kindred obscure (but somewhat inferior) French surrealist horror flick Clash (1984) directed by Raphaël Delpard but especially reminiscent of the nearly immaculate post-apocalyptic French-Canadian sci-fi short The City Without Windows (2002) aka La dernière voix directed by Julien Fonfrede and Karim Hussain, the postmortem bluish blends of Agustí Villaronga’s of In a Glass Cage (1987), as well as capturing the carnivalesque characters and wayfarer wandering essence of Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979) and Enzo G. Castellari 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982), minus the mindless action and street gangs, Zoo zéro is a rare and wildly idiosyncratic (and consequently flawed) arthouse entry in the unofficial existential dystopian neo-noir subgenre. Probably in part due to its unwaveringly artiness and absurdness, as well as its staunch somberness, Zoo zéro – a demanding and dispiriting Delphian odyssey with a tolerable tinge of zoophilia that is bound to inspire profound ennui in the everyday filmgoer – has been plagued by obscurity since its release in 1979, but, I for one, can say that I am one of the film's greatest admirers. 

-Ty E


Anonymous said...

Thats around the same time that he appeared in Woyceck and Nosferatu.

eddie lydecker said...

I cant believe its over 20 years now since Kinski snuffed it. By the way, what about a reveiw of "Crawlspace" (1986).