Jun 18, 2014

E.T.A. Hoffmanns Der Sandmann




Ever since I first discovered his Neue Deutsche Welle themed arthouse-horror masterpiece Der Fan (1982) aka Trance about a decade ago or so, I have been deeply intrigued by the oeuvre of Teutonic auteur Eckhart Schmidt (Jet Generation - Wie Mädchen heute Männer lieben, Alpha City), who I have developed a strange sense of respect for due to his proudly subversive anti-intellectualism, unwaveringly rampant heterosexuality (sometimes, I think that he only directs films so that he can talk cute girls into taking off their clothes), and seeming loathing of arthouse cinema.  Indeed, unlike many German filmmakers of his zeitgeist, Schmidt seemed most interested in entertaining and titillating, albeit in a distinctly artful fashion, than making films in solidarity with far-left terrorists and phallophobic feminists.  Once described by German auteur Alexander Kluge as featuring a sort of “refined cannibalism,” Schmidt’s films reminded krauts that there are still some German men that are willing to do anything for women, including die, even in a spiritually castrated post-feminist age when most German filmmakers, especially those that belonged to German New Cinema, were more interested in promoting quasi-communist political causes. In fact, Schmidt once bravely confessed, “I would rather film a naked girl than a discussion of problems,” with the countless tender tits and bare bushes in virtually all of his works proving this. For his feature E.T.A. Hoffmanns Der Sandmann (1993) aka The Sandman—a work loosely based on the highly influential 1816 E. T. A. Hoffmann Gothic short story of the same name—the auteur took his obsession with unclad woman to ungodly extremes in a work about a mentally haunted mensch with such an unhealthy obsession with a mysterious young lady that he tries in vain to overlook the fact that she is a manmade robot. Indeed, a sort of arthouse fantasy-horror-romance flick of the orgasmically oneiric, neo-romantic, and even quasi-Lynchian variety, Der Sandmann certainly is, at least in my opinion, a lost cult classic of German cinema. Directed by an unconventional kraut auteur who seems to be responsible for some of the least German, German flicks ever made starring oftentimes foreign and/or seemingly intentionally swarthy actors and actresses (indeed, in Schmidt’s Alpha City, the Aryan protagonist looks like a wop metalhead and the American antagonist looks almost like archetypical Teutonic Übermensch), Der Sandmann is probably Schmidt’s most innately Teutonic cinematic work to date as a modernist neo-romanticist work based on a classic romantic work written by one of the Fatherland’s greatest Mythopoeic writers. Like Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice (1971) meets James B. Harris’ Some Call It Loving (1973) aka Dream Castle meets Blade Runner (1982), Schmidt's flick is an exceedingly ethereal, darkly romantic, deliriously dreamlike, and obscenely obsessive adult Gothic fairytale about a troubled young man suffering from a decidedly debilitating and even deranging case of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of seeing his father die as a child who revisits his childhood hometown in Italy with his girlfriend and finds himself falling dangerously in love with the daughter of a man who he blames for his father’s dubious death some two decades before. A sort of Last Year at Marienbad (1961) for Douglas Sirk fans (on top of directing two documentaries on Sirk, Schmidt made his film Das Wunder (1985) in the melodramatic spirit of his filmic father figure) and/or people who cannot stand the mental masturbation of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Der Sandmann is an undeniably flawed flick that reminds one that some films, no matter how convoluted and nonsensical they are, have an idiosyncratic narcotizing affect that makes all its weaknesses seem irrelevant and totally forgivable on retrospect. 




 Daniel (half Irish/half Italian actor Lorenzo Flaherty) is driving to the ancient Italian resort town that he grew up in with his beauteous girlfriend Clara (Sabrina Paravicini) and he should be rather happy, but he is plagued by a childhood flashback from twenty years ago when he witnessed his father’s death in a fire during a unexplained industrial accident. Indeed, Daniel is so consumed by bad memories that he almost completely collapses upon checking into a hotel at a quaint Italian village with his girlfriend as a result of these literally hellish flashbacks. Of course, Daniel only gets all the more worse when he bumps into a wealthy old Guido scientist named Coppola (played by German veteran actor Erik Schumann, who started working during the Nazi era and went on to star in Fassbinder flicks like Lili Marleen (1981) and Veronika Voss (1982)), who the disturbed young man blames for the death of his father. Of course, a series of problems arise for Daniel one night when he not only bumps into Coppola, but also spots his nemesis’ exceedingly strange and slender yet equally sensual daughter Olimpia (Stella Vordemann), who likes to show her oftentimes scantly clad statuesque body outside around her father's estate, as if she is a living statue of great aesthetic majesty that the scientist cannot help but flaunt to his neighbors. Needless to say, Clara becomes instantly jealous of Olimpia, but she is also worried about Daniel’s fanatical hatred of old man Coppola and believes her boyfriend is more or less borderline schizophrenic. When Daniel takes Clara to visit his father’s grave for the first time in his entire life, he tells his girlfriend that he believes Coppola killed his father and fled, but she does not believe him, as he has no evidence to back his claims aside from a faulty childhood memory. After Daniel breaks into Coppola’s home a couple times and attempts to swoon the virtual walking-and-talking orgasm (indeed, due to her singular exotic and erotic essence, she is like sex incarnate), Olimpia, Clara is, somewhat inexplicably, invited to a party at the elderly Goombah’s home. Upon being ‘formally’ introduced to Olimpia, Daniel confesses to the young lady that he has a feeling that a “new life” begins today, as if the young debutante has stolen his soul. After the party, Clara naturally berates Daniel for debasing her by slobbering over Olimpia in front of everyone else at the reception and obsessing over Coppola, stating, “If he’s a murderer then I’m the Virgin Mary.”  Indeed, while Clara might not be the Virgin Mary, Olimpia is certainly the next best thing, as a virginal beauty that seems like a living and breathing Arno Breker statue, albeit with a fire-crotch.




 Needless to say, after taking all she can in terms of being ignored by her lovelorn lunatic boyfriend, Clara runs away, heads to Venice and leaves her unfaithful boy toy a letter saying he can join her if he wants, but of course, Daniel has too much unhealthy love for Olimpia and fanatical hatred for Coppola to leave just now. Degenerating more and more into a depraved megalomaniac of sorts who runs around from place-to-place rambling nonsense, Daniel begins taunting and making death threats to Coppola, but the scientist remains rather calm, at least considering the circumstances.  Of course, this does not stop the exceedingly arrogant antihero from routinely bedding Coppola's delectable daughter. When Coppola’s elderly associate Spalanzini (John Karlsen) offers Daniel a brand new red BMW to leave the Italian town and reunite with his girlfriend, the meta-lovestruck young man throws the keys to the car in a river and sarcastically asks the old man, “do you happen to have a spare key?” After a while, Daniel manages to get Olimpia out of her father’s firm and seemingly incestous grip, but he soon discovers that things are not as magic as he had hoped they would be. On top of the fact that Olimpia is rather evasive when it comes to questions regarding her childhood and background in general, Daniel soon learns that she bleeds white fluid and has wires and tubes in her rather petite body. Indeed, Olimpia is an anatomically-correct cyborg that was invented by Coppola, yet she somehow developed real human emotions over time, including love, yet Daniel finds this all to be rather dubious and begins questioning the integrity of his erotic robotic lover. While Daniel complains that Coppola is an evil Sandman who threatened “to scratch out my eye if I couldn’t restrain my curiosity” when he was a child, Olimpia ensures her new boyfriend that he is a great and loving man who brought her life. Obsessed with the fact that she is a robot who cannot feel pain, Daniel begins to doubt Olimpia’s love and becomes increasingly obsessed with playing with the various parts and wires inside her body, as if he has developed a foul fetish for masturbating machinery. Needless to say, one day, Daniel goes too far in terms of fiddling with his robo-babe’s wanton wires and ultimately disembowels her, thereupon resulting in her malfunction and subsequent death. Desperate to revive his amorous automaton, Daniel goes to his perennial enemy Coppola for help and learns that his lady love is gone forever, as the Guido scientist attempted to make a second robot and failed. Indeed, Coppola also reveals to Daniel that he is actually his father and that the real Coppola was the one that died in the tragic fire that took place two decades ago. As Daniel’s father explains, “I couldn’t bear what I’d done to you and your mother. That’s why I fled. Only your mother knew the truth…And that truth killed her. Forgive me. Daniel. Please. Forgive me. Forgive me everything.” In the end, pseudo-Coppola/Daniel's father drops dead and Daniel somehow regains his sanity and goes to Venice to reunite with his girlfriend Clara. 




 For those that found the love affair between Rick Deckard and ‘replicant’ Rachael in Blade Runner to be somehow strangely romantic, Der Sandmann takes the whole mensch-cyborg romance deal to much more unhinged extremes in a work that is more or less an allegory for the intangibility of an immaculate lover/love affair, as a film featuring a man that believes he has fallen in love with the perfect woman, only to learn that she is not even a real woman/human, but the dubious creation of his worst enemy, who ultimately turns out to be his father. Needless to say, despite the film's full title ‘E.T.A. Hoffmanns Der Sandmann,’ Schmidt's phantasmagorical piece of celluloid is only superficially reminiscent of Hoffmann's short story (which Freud once heavily analyzed in his 1919 essay The Uncanny aka Das Unheimliche) and, quite unlike the source material, the film features a semi-happy ending. While depicting a man that is clearly half-crazed (like with Hoffmann's story, the character of Coppola is a sort of metaphor for antihero Daniel's dark side), Schmidt’s film is a sort of wild and whimsical wake-up call to all men regarding the fact that there is no such thing as a completely perfect woman and that if a woman seems too good to be true, it is probably because she is. While a somewhat kitschy work, Der Sandmann wallows in pure passion and unbridled romance, as a strikingly charming celluloid work that transcends both dream and reality, as well as the usually fine line between high and low art. As Hans Schifferle wrote in a brief article about the auteur, Schmidt is a filmmaker that “does not see movies and art, spectacle and poetry, classical music and rock ’n’ roll as opposites, but as two sides of the same coin” and nowhere is this more clear than in Der Sandmann, which offers a sort of semi-Hollywoodized take on classic Teutonic kultur. Indeed, as a man who once described his early feature Männer sind zum Lieben da (1970) aka Atlantis as “Kleist’s Penthesilea as a romantic comedy” and who in 1989 directed an adaption of Richard Wagner’s 1876 four cycle opera Der Ring des Nibelungen aka The Ring of the Nibelung on video, Schmidt is not a filmmaker who is afraid to add a little bit of trash to class and vice versa, with Der Sandmann being quite arguably his most successful attempt at cinematically melding classical art with kitsch (indeed, the film’s score, which features Vivaldi and Chopin, as well as industrial electronic music, perfectly demonstrates this). Arguably the greatest filmmaker ever associated with the ‘New Munich Group’ (which also included Klaus Lemke, Rudolf Thome, Max Zihlmann, and Peter Nestler and various other filmmakers that were not associated with German New Cinema), Schmidt ultimately demonstrated that the catastrophic Second World War did not totally destroy the romantic essence of the German collective as one might suspect, as while Der Sandmann may not be the cinematic equivalent of one of Wagner's operas, it certainly touches the soul in a beauteously bittersweet fashion that reminds one why life is worth living as a fetishistic fever dream that depicts a wickedly warped mis-romance that is almost as patently pathetic as Friedrich Nietzsche's failed love affair with Lou Andreas-Salomé.



-Ty E

12 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

You know that gorgeous naked chick on the bed, i want to shove my willy up her bum (as the bird was 21 years ago when this film was made, not as the slag is now obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Because of my murderous homo-phobia i`d have to write the title of this film as: "E.T.A. Hoff-girls Der Sand-girl" ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Its great that you`ve started to embrace and respect the films of a rampantly heterosexual Kraut film-maker Ty E (one that Uncle Adolf would`ve been proud of), perhaps this`ll be the beginning of you finally making that all-important decision to discard and reject ALL the faggot film-makers (of any nationality) who unfortunately pollute and besmirch this otherwise great site.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, the war may have been catastrophic for the Krauts but for the Americans IT WAS BLOODY PERFECTION AND MAGIC ! ! !, did you forget ?.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I have nothing but total respect for Eckhart Schmidt both as a film-maker and as a hu-girl being simply because he is rampagingly heterosexual, just as i have nothing but total contempt for Fassbinder specifically because he was a faggot.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

No such thing as the perfect bird Ty E ! ? ! ?, what about a certain Pauline Hickey aged 17 circa 1985 ! ! !, i think that bird came pretty close to being perfect-a-mundo wouldn`t you agree ! ?. Also what about Heather, she was already amazing at 12, had she lived for another 6 years imagine how astounding the bird would`ve been at 18 ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Lou Andreas-Salome wasn`t a very tasty bird (even when she was a young bird), weren`t there any Pauline Hickey or Heather O`Rourke look-a-likes about that Nietzsche could`ve gone after instead ?.

Jennifer Croissant said...

On the DVD cover the bird looks like Holly Woodlawn.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, just going back to what i was saying last week regarding Tarkovskys "Stalker" (1979), when you do finally reveiw it i was wondering if you could girl-tion what i said about how magical it would be to bring Heather back to life in the total and utter tranquility and serenity of that place and how totally amazing and perfect that would be ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

As i`ve said before i think "Blade Runner" is a ludicrously over-rated film, primarily of course because it was made by a British tosser.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

When John Brookes headed the winner against Ghana the other night i bet he was saying: "This ones for you Heather".

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, Portugal looked like a bloody load of old rubbish against the Krauts, the American team has got to take advantage and win that game well on Sunday night, then they`ll be laughing.