Jul 7, 2013

Reise nach Agatis

Indubitably transcending his fellow kraut countryman Jörg Buttgereit of Nekromantik (1987) fame in terms of carefully concocting the most unwaveringly subversive and extreme German arthouse horror flicks ever made, Marian Dora (Cannibal, Melancholie der Engel aka The Angel's Melancholia)—a mysterious man who has consistently cinematically depicted real-life animal killings, the most foully fetishistic sex, and unrelenting artsy fartsy and atmospheric drama to the point of receiving threats against his life—is also undoubtedly one of the most, if not the most, extreme and esoteric ‘horror’ filmmakers in the world and one of his most recent releases, the rather brief yet brutally beauteous Reise nach Agatis (2010) aka Voyage to Agatis, is certainly no exception in terms of its extremity. Described by Dora himself as a “not so personal” work in comparison to his vulgarian 'völkisch' epic Melancholie der Engel (2009) aka The Angel's Melancholia—a fiercely fetishistic, virtual cinematic ‘wild hunt’ of the foreboding and apocalyptic expression of the Teutonic soul featuring tributes to German New Cinema alpha-auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the suicidal far-left terrorists of the Baader-Meinhof Group, as well as angelic pilgrimages to Auschwitz concentration camp—Reise nach Agatis is a much simpler piece of digital video derangement which seems to be a loose take on the director’s hero Ruggero Deodato’s early work Waves of Lust (1975), which itself is a take on Roman Polanski’s first feature-length film Knife in the Water (1962), meets The Most Dangerous Game. Shot on a beggar’s budget of an estimated €10,000 (around $14,900) in Croatia over May 27-29, 2008, Reise nach Agatis builds on what director Dora experimented with in his rather uneventful experimental short Carribean Sunrise, an aesthetically pleasing depiction of a voluptuous naked corpse of a woman laying on a beach during an ethereal sunup. A simultaneously cinéma vérité-like work with an oftentimes transcendental dreamlike quality, Reise nach Agatis brazenly blurs the line between natural beauty and the distinctive brutality and sexual sadism of man. Featuring shaved pussies and shriveled cocks, Hans Bellmer-esque dolls, the malicious mutilation of sea cucumbers, a malevolent Ménage à trois and one of the most boorish and innately sleazy alcohol-addled kraut characters to be featured in a film since the release of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993), Reise nach Agatis is an uncompromising celluloid vacation where bloodlusting vivisection of the manhunter sort proves to be the most potent antidote for a superlatively sadomasochistic couple whose relationship is on the rocks, both literally and figuratively. 

 During the first couple minutes of Reise nach Agatis we witness from the perspective of an unseen killer a somewhat pretty yet also somewhat homely and swarthy young woman going from being a lonely tourist to a naked piece of hysterical human prey who is slaughtered on the beach as her blood poetically dissolves in waves with the tide. Clearly dead as a day old Negro, the film cuts to solacing scenes of grotesque baby dolls submerged in the ocean set to the score of slightly somber jewelry box-like music. From there, the film takes an almost home-video-like feel when it introduces the two anti-heroes, lunatic lovers Rafael (Thomas Goersch) and Isabell (Tatjana Mueller), who are taking a much needed holiday trip to the beach. It is quite clear from the get go that the two middle-aged lovebirds are having relationship problems as Rafael drinks liquor like a McKraut fish and Isabell does not waste any time bitching to her bad-mannered dipsomaniac beau about his seemingly vicious vice during a scenic drive through the country. Rafael and Isabell eventually reach a bourgeoisie café around nighttime and run into a pedomorphic Slavic chick named Lisa (Janna Lisa Dombrowsky), whose sheer lack of pubic hair on her un-bearded clam, which is featured bare throughout Reise nach Agatis, falls in line with the paradoxical virgin-whore doll and ‘destruction of purity’ themes that run throughout the film. After attempting to ‘sell’ his woman to men at the café, Rafael pseudo-suavely confronts Lisa and tells her how Isabell is “a bit complicated” but “fucks good.” Sleazy swine Rafael must have something going on for him in terms of charisma, as Lisa agrees to join him and Isabell on a sailing trip on their yacht. In a reversal of gender roles from Polanski’s Knife in the Water, Lisa and Isabell ultimately vie for the sexual attention of the seemingly psychopathic pig Rafael, a megalomaniac of a mensch who sports an undecorated German officer’s uniform to distinguish himself as the captain of his rather small ship. 

 While Rafael tells little blonde babe Lisa that her “decision was just the right one” in terms of sailing with the couple, little does she realize that the captain is a deleteriously domineering sadist who will not take “no” for an answer, especially when it comes to a woman and the sanctity of her own body. Of course, as someone who incessantly flaunts her nubile young body at a homicidal horndog of a man and his discernibly jealous romantic partner, she is just asking for trouble and, indeed, trouble she receives. With the discovery of a corpse-like baby doll in the sea and foretelling of a terrible fate via tarot cards, including the “Five of Cups,” which typically reflects perennial melancholy over past events (while not appreciating what one still has), and the Devil tarot, which typically reflects being shackled to an unhealthy addiction to earthly desires, Reise nach Agatis goes from being a bargain bin Duran Duran video to an ominous oceanic bottomless pit of torture and sadism. After a horrible dinner that results in Rafael throwing wine in the bitchy babe’s face and Isabell physically assaulting Lisa, the tables are turned for the cutesy cocktease, who is not only physically forced to strip by the crazy captain, but also thrown overboard with all of her belongings—purse, panties, and all—which are inevitably lost at sea. Not merely content with brutally assaulting Lisa and throwing away all of her belongings, Rafael ties her au naturel body to his boat and rapes her shortly after, but not before spitting the blood and guts of a sea cucumber he had just caught and dismembered into the sad Slavic girl's mouth. More horny and hysterical than the honeymoon killers, Rafael and Isabell receive mutual sexual ecstasy while torturing Lisa, especially when the man in the relationship does the involuntary manhandling while his lunatic old lady watches. Ultimately, Rafael is a hunter and Isabell is a voyeur, so when the two decide to let Lisa go on an island, it is the man who takes care of business in the form of knife-to-vagina mutilation that results in the young girl’s bloody and fecal-following disembowelment. 

 During a couple scenes throughout Reise nach Agatis, a vintage black-and-white portrait picture of the unnamed dark-haired girl that was brutally butchered on a beach at the beginning of the film is glanced at by maniac murderer Rafael with love and affection, thus hinting that she was his daughter/lover and that his lust for youthful female flesh and blood is the result of not getting over the girl’s death as a victim turned victimizer. With the film’s reference to the Devil Tarot card, a symbol of self-bondage to an unhealthy idea and/or fixation that prevents one from living a healthy life, which Rafael certainly does as an alcoholic murder who still longs for a dead girl, Reise nach Agatis is ultimately a film about a wayward sort of ‘redemption’ via genital mutilation and murder. Rather ridiculously, after Rafael guts Lisa like a pig, he and his lover Isabell, who only have resentful disdain for one another throughout most of the film (Rafael even gives Lisa the opportunity to kill Isabell), lovingly embrace and seem to settle the differences and start a new beginning at the conclusion of Reise nach Agatis, thus one could argue the film concludes on a rather happy and positive note, heavenly and angelic sky and all, at least as far as a Marion Dora film is concerned. Although easily his‘most accessible’ and least unwaveringly grotesque effort to date, Reise nach Agatis is still pure and unadulterated Marian Dora in short but sadistically sweet form. A literally gut-wrenching work with a discernibly discordant moral compass, Reise nach Agatis is so-called ‘torture porn’ with a brain in Dogme 95 style that portrays decidedly deranged individuals who no longer have the same mental processes as the rest of humanity as hopelessly tainted individuals whose only source of solace is from the suffering of others so as to dull their own suffering. A filmmaker who has referenced great Teutonic romantic poets and thinkers like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Georg Büchner, and Eduard Mörike, as well as great modern kraut cultural creators like Wolfgang Koeppen and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Reise nach Agatis is undoubtedly a work that aspires to be a reflection, if not a rather unflattering one, of the German collective unconscious just as it strives to be one of the most aesthetically pernicious yet poetic horror flicks ever made. And, indeed, while it is somewhat dubious whether Dora achieves what he sets out to accomplish (I certainly feel it does, at least to some notable yet nauseating degree), it is nothing short of indisputable that Reise nach Agatis is a piece of erratic emotional excess and audacious anti-entertainment of the Hollywood-free variety that initially sets up the viewer for a lovely scenic sail that transforms into an aesthetically entrancing psychodrama of inhumanity wherein the viewer becomes a metaphysical accomplice to murderous misogyny, which will certainly be no small cinematic task for the typical Spielberg-lobotomized filmgoer, but it is undoubtedly a rewarding one. 

-Ty E

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