While typically best known for being one of the most talented actors in the German-speaking world, even if he has aged horrifically over the past couple decades, Austrian actor Paulus Manker (Benny’s Video, Brother of Sleep) is also an audacious auteur filmmaker who has directed some of the most immaculately assembled, if not acutely aberrant, Austrian films of the post-WWII era. Learning the craft of filmmaking by working with some of the most pathologically provocative and nihilistic filmmakers from his homeland, including Michael Haneke (Time of the Wolf, Funny Games) and Franz Novotny (Exit... But No Panic, Die Ausgesperrten aka The Excluded), Manker started his directing career with the completely unclassifiable and totally chilling yet suavely stylized post-industrial ‘horror-thriller’ Schmutz aka (1987) Dirt – a uniquely uncompromising and absurdly ambitious film that would earn a number of awards at festivals, including "Prize for the best director" and "Special recommendation for the soundtrack" at the 1987 Flanders International Film Festival Ghent, and would even be adapted into a book written by German writer Thorsten Becker, yet I doubt any novel could capture the fiercely foreboding and enthralling yet equally alienating atmosphere of the film. Centering around a humorless security guard who takes his unglamorous job watching over an abandoned paper mill a little too seriously and who experiences a brutal break with sanity after losing said job, Schmutz is like a nihilistic adaptation of F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1924) aka Der letzte Mann for the post-WWII generation with its pomo post-industrial setting and irreparably lost protagonist, so it should be no surprise that Manker’s former collaborators Novotny (who came up with the “idea” and “treatment”) and Haneke (who wrote some of the dialogue) also contributed to the film as writers. For all those individuals who have worked at a job with a dreary dildo of a dude who treats every aspect of his work as if the fate of the world depends on it and brown-nosing the boss like a pathological shit-eater at what is nothing more than a dead-end job fit for a masochistic monkey, Schmutz makes for a horrifyingly ‘postmodern human, all too postmodern human’ work about a dispiriting dystopian world where a true ‘purpose’ in life is nowhere to be found. Featuring a super seductive synth-driven score by Swiss synthpop group Yello, Schmutz is probably the mostly readily digestible work ever made about the slow but steady mental disintegration of a maniac child killer.
In another rather allegorical and acutely apocalyptic scene, Schmutz the putz, after being fired from his job, shoots a television ad featuring the Austrian flag, thus making it seem as if Uncle Adolf’s homeland is still in flames due to its infamous legacy, but like many scenarios featured in Schmutz, reality and virtual reality are nearly impossible to distinguish. The one thing that gives Schmutz any semblance of inner ‘humanity’ is his longing for ‘paradise’ (in the form of an old postcard of a tropical island he finds at the plant) and ‘romance’ (in the form of a soap bar and TV commercial), but neither of these things are organic objects, but rather, abstract ideas advertized by companies, thus one could easily argue that the super slayer of a security guard, not unlike the anti-heroes of Manker’s two other feature-length films Weiningers Nacht (1990) aka Weininger's Last Night and Der Kopf des Mohren (1995) aka The Moor’s Head is a victim of the postmodern condition, albeit one suffering from a rather extreme and hopeless case of the decidedly damned sort. In the end, Schmutz calls out to the archangels Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael as a fallen man whose spiritual descent and revolt against god has put him in league with the evil archangel Lucifer. Indeed, no other race but Faustian man, European man, has managed to fall from the grace so hard and so fast with Schmutz being a meager member of this tradition. As the same country that has sired Adolf Hitler, Viennese Actionism, and Peter Kern, it is no surprise that the totally talented Paulus Manker was able to churn out an auspicious celluloid work like Schmutz – a film that acts as an esoteric expression of the psychosis-ridden Austrian collective unconscious. With epic Riefenstahl-esque camera angles in ostensible sardonic anti-tribute to Triumph of the Will (1935) aka Triumph des Willens and a postmodern pessimism in the tradition of his filmic gurus Michael Haneke and Franz Novotny, Manker's Schmutz is a seamlessly assembled hodgepodge of twentieth century Germanic cinema ingredients that has only become all the more relevant as the years have past in an age where it seems that every month there is an autistic shooter who has went on a rampage at a school or movie theater.