Oct 18, 2012

Haider lebt - 1. April 2021

Austrian actor/director Peter Kern – a portly man of seemingly Semitic ancestry – has never shied away from playing with themes relating to nationalism, the history of Nazism, and the so-called ‘far-right’ in general. In Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977), while ironically sporting a SS uniform, Kern’s character reenacted Peter Lorre’s speech as the childkiller Hans Beckert from Fritz Lang’s M (1931), but the rather rotund Austrian actor’s flirtation with fascism would reach its zenith with the films he sat in the director’s chair for. With his early women-in-prison exploitation flick The Island of the Bloody Plantation (1983) aka Die Insel der blutigen Plantage – a work he co-directed with fellow Fassbinder regular Kurt Raab – Kern created a work seemingly loosely inspired by H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) about a neo-nazi dictatorship that has enslaved and sexually tortures, rapes, and kills female Filipino sex slaves. Later in his filmmaking career, Kern would focus on more serious nazi-themed subjects with the documentary Hamlet: This is your Family, Nazi-line (2001), a document of his buddy Christoph Schlingensief's adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet starring real-life ex-neo-nazis. More recently, Kern created a Hollywood-like melodrama Initiation aka Blutsfreundschaft (2008) about a newbie neo-nazi who forms a bond with an old homosexual (Helmut Berger) who suffered persecution during the Third Reich era. Undoubtedly, out of all of Peter Kern’s auteur efforts, his dystopian sci-fi comedy Haider lebt - 1. April 2021 (2002) aka Haider Lives – a no-budget digital video work starring hot German actor August Diehl (The Counterfeiter, Inglourious Basterds) in a rarely-seen performance he agreed to do for free (like all the actors in the film) due to lack of funds. A satirical reworking of ex-nazi propagandist Wolfgang Liebeneiner’s (director of the 1941 pro-euthanasia work Ich klage an aka I Accuse) film 1. April 2000 (1952) – a political satire about continued allied occupation of Austria some half a century after the conclusion of the Second World War – Peter Kern’s Haider lebt - 1. April 2021 is both an artistic assault against recently deceased Austrian far-right politician Jörg Haider (longtime leader of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and the dubious relationship of the United States government with Iraq. Set twenty years after the apparent rise and fall of Haider’s dictatorship of Austria and eventual occupation of Europe by America, Haider lebt - 1. April 2021 portrays a mythical future Austria with a silly softcore authoritarian dictatorship.

The title of Kern’s Haider lebt - 1. April 2021 is quite interesting because, as of October 11, 2008, the real-life Haider no longer lives. Dying under mysterious conditions that sparked speculation among Haider’s widow and conspiracy theorist alike, Jörg Haider – the first popular and powerful ‘right-wing’ Austrian nationalistic leader since the Third Reich and uncompromisingly nationalistic politician believed to have ‘Nazi sympathies' due to his positive remarks about members of the Waffen-SS and less than flattering remarks about certain Jewish leaders – was certainly the sort of controversial leader who would be marked for assassination by a variety of idealistic opponents. Closely monitored by Mossad (the Israeli Secret Service) due to his political ties (apparently receiving large money transfers) to prominent ‘Islamofascist dictators’ like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, as well as his vocal positive remarks about the National Socialist era and his ‘minimalism’ of the holocaust and recognition of atrocities committed against Germanic peoples during World War II, Haider was indubitably a politician that certain alien anti-European elements and innumerable mainstream left-wingers wanted dead, thus making the film Haider lebt - 1. April 2021 an all the more curious work since its initial release over a decade ago, especially considering he and his Arab associates are no longer living.  A proud Austrian who wore lederhosen and engaged in mountaineering (as shown in the film), Haider was certainly not the sort of ethno-masochistic multiculturalist that is typical of most modern European and American politicians. That being said, it is interesting to note that director Peter Kern has described Haider lebt - 1. April 2021 as a 'Heimatfilm' (aka 'homeland-film'), but considering the filmmaker's political persuasion, this sardonic satire at the expense of Haider and Austrian nationalists in general, is not exactly in the tradition of Arnold Fanck's The Holy Mountain (1926) aka Der heilige Berg. Like his friend and collaborator Christoph Schlingensief did with Mutters Maske (1988) – a freeform remake of the National Socialist arthouse masterpiece Opfergang (1944) directed by Veit Harlan – Kern molest, mangles, mutilates, and ultimately deconstructs and reassembles the 'Heimatfilm', henceforth resulting in a schlocky and artistically sacrilegious final product that no one would confuse with the real thing.

Haider lebt - 1. April 2021 opens with the lead protagonist August Maria Kaiser (August Diehl), a German journalist, awaking from bed and discovering the American Anschluss of Austria is complete with the American dollar officially replacing the Euro and the implementation of U.S. laws, including Capital Punishment and yank-style Civil Rights. A.M. Kaiser (who likes to sleep through the morning, hence his initials) – a spokesman and reporter for the fictional German Free TV – sets out to make a documentary about the political climate in contemporary Austrian and by doing so, is constantly harassed by members of an American Gestapo, who have outlawed Austrian vernacular and traditional Austrian folk songs.  Apparently, like fellow Austrian nationalist leader Adolf Hitler, Haider inevitably caused his nation to fall in enemy hands after the fall of his short-lived 'Germania' empire (which included Germany and surrounding states). With European nations divided into American satellite states and Johnny Bush (fictional son of George) as the prime minister of Austria, A.M. Kaiser soon comes to realize that Europa is a technocratic entity of a prison planet where – through forced deracination and globalization – important cultural ingredients like art and individuality are dissolving into nonexistence. Although Americans want Austrian citizens to believe he is dead, many people, including A.M. Kaiser, believe that ex-dictator Jörg Haider (whose reign lasted from 2003-2020) is hiding somewhere in the underground. As A.M. Kaiser discovers throughout his video-diary journey, Haider is, for many, a beloved folk hero like Uncle Adolf was to Germanic peoples in the 1930s and 1940s, but for some, including a disgruntled citizen played by Peter Kern himself, who almost has a heart attack while spewing his hatred, have less than fond memories about the missing Austrian politician. Eventually, Kaiser meets up with Mrs. Susanne Riess-Passer (Traute Hoess) – an excessively eccentric lady that loves the red-white-red (Austrian flag colors) and loathes the red-white-blue of the American occupiers – who is based on the real-life former politician of Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) that at onetime acted as a ‘puppet’ chairwoman and leader of the FPÖ due to Haider’s controversial reputation. As mentioned in Haider lebt - 1. April 2021, Riess-Passer earned the nickname ‘Königskobra’ (aka King Cobra) due to her loyalty to Haider. In the film, Riess-Passer leads A.M. Kaiser on an odyssey that ends in the forests of Austria, in the course of time revealing the truth about Haider's whereabouts is finally revealed.

Considering Jörg Haider’s tragic death and posthumous rumors that the ill-fated Austrian politician was living a twink-filled, second life as a homosexual, one can only wonder how Haider lebt - 1. April 2021 would have turned out had it been conceived a decade later. A micro-budget film-within-a-film with science fiction pretenses, Haider lebt - 1. April 2021 – like Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965) – has no elaborate futuristic sets nor any semblance that it actually takes place in a foreseeable future, thereupon making it one of the most clever and politically astute ‘homevideo aesthetic’ works ever made.   Shot over the course of 7 days with unpaid actors, Haider lebt - 1. April 2021 – although a work seething with cynical anti-nationalist hatred hidden by satirical and often juvenile humor – is undoubtedly a labor of love that could have only been assembled by a man with a potent and penetrating vision.  Predating the aesthetically and thematically similar work Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Haider lebt - 1. April 2021, as well as the films, plays, and TV shows of Peter Kern's recently deceased compatriot Christoph Schlingensief, are ultimately more socio-politically insightful than the popular mockumentary by the same sociopathic jackasses that brought us Brüno (2009); a work that is incidentally (or not) about a gay Austrian.  Of course, like the fictional future Europe portrayed in Haider lebt - 1. April 2021, it is questionable whether Kern and Schlingensief will ever gain a serious cult following, which is largely due to American homogenization and imported Hollywood anti-kultur.  Say what you will about Jörg Haider, but at least he would have secured a future for the Heimatfilm, had he actually lived long enough to become the uncontested Führer of the Fatherland.

-Ty E

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