Sep 30, 2013
Although best known nowadays, especially in the English-speaking world, as the mad scatological scientist with an affinity for sewing rectums to mouths in Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009), seemingly half-crazed and reptilian-like kraut actor Dieter Laser was once quite a serious actor of German New Cinema, appearing in important cinematic works like The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975) co-directed by Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta and the omnibus film Germany in Autumn (1978), but undoubtedly his lead role in the dystopian sci-fi flick Wir (1981) aka We is one of the greatest and most important of his career, even if few people have actually seen it. Directed by Czech auteur Vojtěch Jasný (Až přijde kocour aka The Cassandra Cat, The Great Land of Small) and based on the novel We (1921) written by science fiction/political satire writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, Wir is a film that wastes no time criticizing authoritarian collectivism, especially of the commie sort. With the source novel being the very first book to be banned by the Soviet censorship board and the author Zamyatin being referred to as one of the first Soviet dissidents, Wir is, not surprisingly, one of the few ‘overtly anti-communist’ films of German New Cinema, albeit with little anti-fascist nuances like gas chambers and whatnot thrown in so as to assumedly appeal to the vogue far-left that dominated culture in the Fatherland at that time. Featuring a superlatively soulless world of transparent glass walls and architecture where everyone can see everything and no one has privacy, emotions and art for art’s sake is a crime, dreams are considered symptoms of madness, and the people worship a megalomaniac of a charlatan who literally drains what little bit of humanity they have left via psycho-surgery, Wir certainly deserves a place somewhere in between Welt am Draht (1973) aka World on a Wire directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Traumstadt (1973) aka Dream City directed by Johannes Schaaf and Die Hamburger Krankheit (1979) aka The Hamburg Syndrome directed by Peter Fleischmann as one of the greatest works of dystopian science fiction of German New Cinema. Adapted for the German Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) on a discernibly low-budget utilizing archaic video technology and primitive yet aesthetically pleasing special-effects, Wir is all but impossible to find nowadays by any official means, but is certainly worth the search, even if by quasi-illegal means.
One State—a quasi-urban artificial nation comprised almost entirely of glass—is a virtual prison community where everyone wears the same exact aesthetically displeasing uniforms (greyish blue sweatsuits where their genitals hang loosely out) and people have numbers instead of names. A somewhat grotesque-looking fellow ‘named’ D-503 (Dieter Laser) is the chief engineer of a spaceship named Integral that will be used to takeover and occupy extraterrestrial planets. Whilst working on the Integral, D-503 also keeps a journal about his day-to-day activities and his thoughts, which he will somewhat unreliably narrate Wir with as the film progresses. Like a human computer addicted to Adderall, D-503 is sort of a like an empty vessel who impulsively spouts propaganda slogans that has little opinion on anything aside from what he has been programmed to think, the source of which being the decided dictator of One State, the ‘Benefactor.’ D-503 is ‘friends’ with and does absurd Kraftwerk-esque exercises with a fellow named R-13 (Giovanni Früh), a slavish so-called ‘State Writer’ who is employed to read verses at executions and who is against art and artistic geniuses and regards the individualistic non-robotic sort of creator as heretical, stating, “poetry is civic service, poetry is useful,” thereupon making him a sort of aesthetic nemesis of Arthur Rimbaud. One day while exercising with his comrades in a scenario that looks like some early 1980s music video, D-503 runs into a chick named I-330 (Sabine von Maydell) and the two eventually reunite later at a place called the Ancient House—a Victorian-like home that acts as a museum in regard to how ‘ancient’ homes once looked—and the little lady commits the unsanctioned and unholy act of putting on a dress and acting in a spastic, albeit happy, manner. Despite the seeming deadness of his soul, D-503 begins to fall in love with wild weirdo I-330 and before he knows it, he is ‘registered’ (indeed, all sex is setup and scheduled by the government) to share his cold and calculating carnal knowledge, but the model citizen is more than a tad bit startled when he sees his federally registered fuck buddy partaking in the ‘marvelous poison’ of liquor, as well as cigarettes, both of which are serious crimes punishable by death in One State.
Enslaved by his growing love for I-330, who it turns out is a political revolutionary and member of a radical group called MEPHI that is looking to wipe out the One State, D-503 is taken through a tunnel inside the Ancient House and introduced to a rural and natural world outside his technocratic city-state, where dandy-like poets, hippies with folk guitars, naked chicks, and other beatnik types called the “Forest People” frolic in the grass gaily and live naturally, which scares the engineer because, as he states, “they look like the figures in the Human History Museum,” yet they are real, living and breathing people with personal freedom. Meanwhile, D-503’s assigned girlfriend O-90 (Susanne Altschul), who is considered by the government to be too short to reproduce, convinces the peculiar protagonist to impregnate her, or so she hopes. On top of that, a more hideous than homely redhead chick named U-27 (Hanna Ruess) seduces D-503 and before he knows it, he is betrayed and put under house arrest, thus making him unable to be around for the first test flight of the Integral spaceship he designed, so he can only think to himself, “Kill…Kill…Kill.” Naturally, D-503 blames U-27, who has apparently read his journal, for the treachery that has been bestowed upon him, so he goes to lunge at and attack her, but she flashes her tits and the Benefactor calls him right after, so he decides against killing her, at least for the moment. D-503 is forced to go see the leader of the One State, the Benefactor, who puts the young engineer in his place. Not long after, D-503 meets up with his lady love I-330, who tells him,“The thing at issue is bigger than us. It’s not about your individual happiness. But the happiness of many others,” thus demonstrating she is just as much of mindless collectivist as her enemies. Not unsurprisingly, D-503 goes mad and attacks a friend and is thus given psycho-surgery, which turns him into a reason-obsessed robot who is proud to admit the high-tech lobotomy made his head feel “light, empty” and that “reason must prevail” in a seemingly possessed fashion. Of course, it is revealed that U-27 told the Benefactor about everything that was written in D-503's journal, including I-330, revolutionary group MEPHI, and their plans to lead a counter-revolution against the cosmic communists at One State. As a treat for unwittingly toppling the MEPHI with his incriminating journal, D-503 has the distinguished pleasure of watching I-330 being tortured by the Benefactor via the “famous gas chamber.” Unwilling to give up her comrades, I-330 refuses to confess under the pain of the gas chamber and D-503 lives happily on as a sophisticated zombie of sorts.
Based on a novel that influenced and/or has thematic similarities with works like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), Ayn Rand’s Anthem (1938), George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano (1952), and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974), Wir might seem rather redundant to the uninitiated in terms of dystopian films, but with its absurdly minimalistic yet ominously oneiric sets, unforgettably unhinged performance from lead Dieter Laser, and the strange vintage video format the ‘film’ was shot on that only adds to the tone and aesthetic of the work, Vojtěch Jasný's striking micro-budget science fiction flick certainly deserves a place in science fiction history as a crudely charismatic kraut cult film that deserves to be rediscovered and rereleased. In terms of its sociopolitical message, Wir makes for a clever indictment of commie collectivism, but also bureaucracy, technocracy, passionless productivity, soulless sex and ‘utilitarian relationships,’ hyper-realization, and eradication of emotion, thereupon making it a film that has become all the more relevant since its release, even if it is outmoded in other ways. Aside from being a clearly low-budget work utilizing primitive technology, Wir has a vague hippie element to it as the “Forest People” in the film, who are essentially ‘progressive’ types, are dressed like cliché hippie scum with stupid haircuts and Jesus sandals. With star Dieter Laser's recent and rather surprising popularity as an iconic cult horror villain as a result of his role in The Human Centipede, one can only hope that interest in the actor will result in people digging up Wir from obscurity and proving the German actor is capable of playing more than just Mengele-esque characters like he did in Tom Six's films, as well as Volker Schlöndorff's The Ogre (1996) aka Der Unhold, but also a mundane engineer who becomes more interesting after receiving a lobotomy.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:10 PM
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