Jul 21, 2013


The subject of deranged children and childkillers oftentimes makes for radically ridiculous and absurdly nonsensical films, especially when treated in a straight and serious fashion with a cheap, contrived, and oftentimes sentimental pseudo-moralistic message tacked on at the end, but at least one cinematic work that I know of, the Western German flick Bübchen (1968) aka Little Boy aka Der kleine Vampir aka The Little Vampire directed by lone-wolf auteur Roland Klick (Deadlock, Supermarkt), manages to handle this uniquely unsettling subject in a fashion that neither preaches a superficial social message, nor treats it in a less than serious and stoic manner yet still manages to be unwaveringly enthralling in its depiction of the seemingly everyday human child as a coldblooded killer. Rather unpopular with film critics in West Germany upon its release due to its uncompromising lack of a then-vogue far-left social critique and Trotskyite finger-pointing, Bübchen is a sort of neo-realist ‘horror’ flick minus genre conventions that gives the audience a cinéma vérité-like view of the seemingly chaotic post-WWII German lower-middleclass and how such a seemingly typical yet innately dysfunctional community deals with the tragic mysterious disappearance of a cute little 2-year-old blonde girl. Apparently inspired by a true story Roland Klick read about in the newspaper, the filmmaker managed to pen the script for Bübchen in a mere 16 hours and planned to shoot in black-and-white. Luckily, the film was shot in color as it manages to capture the grim and colorless, foreboding Teutonic post-industrial wasteland it portrays, where all the adults spend all their time getting drunk and the children are always involved in some barbaric feral-like activity that often results in the senseless destruction of something or other. Like Ulli Lommel’s serial killer masterpiece Tenderness of the Wolves (1973) aka Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe and many films of German New Cinema—a nationalist film movement Roland Klick was typically an aesthetic and sociopolitical opponent of— Bübchen is essentially a ‘horror-of-personality’ work mostly shot from the perspective of the prepubescent perpetrator, thereupon making it all the more disconcerting. Sort of like Baby's Day Out (1994) as directed by TCM-era Tobe Hooper meets Michael Haneke’s Benny’s Video (1992), although never plodding and infinitely more cinematically entertaining, Bübchen portrays a drastically degenerating Deutschland where parents are more occupied with beer cans in their hand than their children, thus they can only panic and create cockeyed theories about 'sexual predators' when a wee baby disappears. 

9-year-old Teutonic preteen Achim (Sascha Urchs) is not like other children, especially boys, to the point where he lies to his friends so as to avoid actually hanging out with them. Seeming to suffer from Asperger syndrome with schizoid tendencies and consistently maintaining a fiercely flat affect, Achim pathologically plays with a toy monkey on a rope and seems to prefer the indoors to the outdoors and personal privacy to playing with others kids his age. When his parents make the mistake of allowing a ditzy pixie bitch of a teenager girl named Monika Behm (Renate Roland)—a girl that looks a cross between title character of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) and Bjork with an androgynous boyish fashion sense borrowed from Twiggy—to watch Achim , as well as his baby sister, it ultimately results in what will be the most terrible day of their lives. Unbeknownst to Achim’s parents, Monika is a slutty and superlatively self-centered girl who has no qualms about ditching the kids she is supposed to be babysitting to be sexually manhandled by a young man much older than herself. Like the pathetic segment of Mondo cane (1962) featuring a bunch of decidedly drunk krauts drowning in their sorrow in the Reeperbahn Strasse of Hamburg, Achim’s parents, especially his father (Sieghardt Rupp), are loser boozers who manage to keep a semblance of lower-middleclass normality, but it all comes crashing down via the painful death of their child that no amount of alcohol will numb. After the parents leave the house and babysitter Monika follows not long after to fornicate in a car with her mechanic boyfriend Otto Borowski (Jürgen Jung), Achim decides to take a couple seemingly innocent photographs of his baby sister, but not longer after the boy has the bright idea to place a plastic bag over the helpless girl’s head, thus leading to her premature death via rather sickening sororicide. Wasting no time to take full advantage of his lack of adult supervision, Achim also plays ‘peeping Tom’ and watches his babysitter Monika and her much older boy toy Otto screwing in a purple car, which the boy subsequently enters and steals the babysitter’s bra as a souvenir. When Achim’s parents come home, they soon notice that their baby daughter is missing and the calculating child killer offers to help support the ultimately futile cause to find his sister. Meanwhile, Monika, who does not want anyone to know she is a teenage tramp who only cares about herself, denies she ever left the home, but soon police get involved and the holes in her personal testimony are exposed. The cold and calculating Achim strategically makes up a lie that he saw a shady young man with a purple car on the day of his sister’s appearance, which ultimately makes Monika’s boyfriend Otto, who owns a similarly colored car, a suspect. Of course, this leads the police to realizing that Monika was screwing Otto in his automobile when she was supposed to be watching Achim’s sister. Monika’s father Erich Behm (Hubert Suschka), who accepts and oftentimes even seems to relish the fact his daughter is a little floozy, comes to the natural conclusion that Achim was probably involved with his sister’s disappearance and tell the children’s parents such. Not wanting to accept the fact their child is probably a deranged little dude, which is quite obvious to anyone looking at the seemingly soulless and monotone fellow, Achim’s parents kick out the Behm family, who happened to be their best friends. Of course, Achim’s father, who probably knows his son better than anyone else, investigates the local junkyard where the boy plays and where Monika got laid, where he discovers the blanket-draped corpse of his only daughter. Instead of going to police and accepting responsibility for what happened, the man gets rid of his baby girl's body, but his son finally gives into pressure and admits the crime to police detectives. Of course, when Achim is taken to where he dumped his sister's corpse, the body is nowhere to be found due to his father's dubious disposing of it in a coal mine shaft. In the end, the illusion of middleclass normality is restored to the German town and a less than proud father must forever live with the fact that his son is the cold-blooded murderer of his very own sister. After everything is said and done, Achim, who has a similarly emotionless stare to matricidal mass murder/child killer Adam Lanza, seems not even the least bit affected by what he has done, but seems all the more dangerous due to successfully getting away with the most sickening sort of crime. 

 Like Clu Gulager’s kaleidoscopic arthouse horror short A Day with the Boys (1969) and both cinematic adaptations of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), Bübchen went where few films have gone before nor after by portraying the seemingly innocent child as a killer, but unlike the other three cinematic works, Klick’s realistically creepy kraut ‘coming-of-age’ flick never attempts to blame anyone for the prepubescent perpetrator’s dubious mental state, which is thankfully never explained nor intellectually dwelt upon, but simply portrayed in as objective a manner as possible. Still, in its sort of then-contemporary anti-Heimatfilm depiction of blue collar Germans as boorish beer-binging bastards who avoid uncomfortable realities at any cost, Bübchen is certainly a quasi-crypto condemnation of a nation that, not unlike a number of Fassbinder’s flicks, especially The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972) and Jail Bait (1973) aka Wildwechsel, portrays a working-class people that are both unable to handle their emotions and especially the truth, so they simply act out in rather irrational and ultimately deleterious fashions, albeit in Klick’s flick, things go back to ‘normal again,’ thus making it all the more unnerving. An unflinchingly fucked celluloid family affair for the tradition-less and unguided post-Nazi generation, Bübchen is a look at the Teutonic collective conscious through the maniacal microcosm of a deranged demon seed whose act of killing his own baby sister was no more significant to him than pulling a weed. 

 Hoping to direct his acid western Deadlock first, Roland Klick described in the documentary Das Kino des Roland Klick (1997) aka The Cinema of Roland Klick how he got around to directing Bübchen as follows, “For a while I was Fellini’s gopher, I was desperate, and drove to Rome. I tried to get a hold of myself there, and got to work with Fellini on “Satyricon.” And it was there that I imagined the “Bübchen” story. Which is a small story, really. And the small scope of the story reflects my own modest means, in a way.” Indeed, with its gritty lower-middleclass ‘Germanic’ realism and rather documentarian-like perspective, Bübchen is not only about as far away as one could get from Fellini’s big budget’s myth-driven surrealist works, but also director Roland Klick’s own much more popular counter-culture cinematic works like Deadlock, Supermarkt, and White Star. Indeed, Bübchen is like a work of German New Cinema, except with a much bigger soul, if not a decidedly despairing one, which is rather ironic since the work was apparently not given its proper due and actually never received the popularity it deserved until it was re-released under the misleading title Der kleine Vampir aka The Little Vampire. As Klick stated regarding critics' initial panning of Bübchen yet its subsequent popularity as a work that, unlike many left-leaning works of German New Cinema, has stood the test of time, “That’s the way it was…Purely for the reason that the film had classical aesthetics, told a simple story…It is told psychologically, too. The character’s actions are very palpable. But it didn’t interpret it in a socially critical way. It didn’t point an accusing finger. And all of that was out of fashion, so to say, back then. But that’s why my films are still popular today.” A film by Dutch-German cinematographer-turned-filmmaker Robert van Ackeren (Blondie’s Number One, A Woman in Flames), who also shot important and artistically groundbreaking films directed by Werner Schroeter (Eika Katappa, Salome) and Rosa von Praunheim (It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives), Bübchen is a nearly immaculate anomaly among German cinema by a kraut cult filmmaker who managed to make a sort of accidental hybrid between the (anti)Heimatfilm and German New Cinema, except making it highly palatable for both proletarian and pretentious art fags alike, something that Austian auteur Michael Haneke has yet to accomplish in all of his career of trying.  If you ever wanted to watch the sort of celluloid work that realistically portrays the sort of kid that kills, there is probably no better example than Bübchen, arguably 'un-German' German auteur Roland Klick's most distinctly 'German' film.

-Ty E

1 comment:

Drew Grimm Van Ess said...

Never seen this one before. As a matter of fact, I've never heard of it before! I'm going to look into it. Thanks for the suggestion.