Long before his film United Trash (1996) aka The Slit caused a brief suspension of diplomatic relations between Germany and Zimbabwe, he was arrested for calling for the death of German chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1997, created and hosted a radical racially-charged reality TV show (Foreigners out! Schlingensiefs Container aka Ausländer raus! Schlingensiefs Container) in the middle of Vienna in 2002 where illegal alien contestants that lost were deported to their respective nations, directed a superlatively subversive and scatological adaptation of Richard Wagner's masterpiece Parsifal (1882) at the prestigious Bayreuth Festival featuring a menstruating Grail and Arthurian knights in Jolson-esque blackface in the summer of 2004, and before he began building a Wagnerian ‘opera village’ in 2010 at a small village in the tiny landlocked western African nation of Burkina Faso, Teutonic auteur and all-around raunchy Renaissance man Christoph Schlingensief (Das deutsche Kettensägenmassaker aka The German Chainsaw-Massacre, Terror 2000) did the seemingly unthinkable by attempting to make the most shamelessly beauteous and poetic film that he could in what one might describe as atavistic awakening of the classic kraut romantic spirit as sprung from the uniquely untamable soul of a mad mensch who had the misfortune of growing up in a nation where a certain Marxist mental midget famously declared the following dickheaded dictum, “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” The film, Egomania – Insel ohne Hoffnung (1986) aka Egomania – Island without Hope, probably owes a great deal of its uncharacteristic pulchritude to the fact that Herr Schlingensief was then dating the leading lady, Tilda Swinton, who clearly had reached her peak in beauty at the time. Filmed on the North German island of Langeneß just off the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein and set in a darkly romantic glacial realm that seems to reconcile the otherworldly landscape paintings of Caspar David Friedrich with the anarchic individualism of somewhat forgotten German philosopher Max Stirner and the ethereal and phantasmagoric expressionism of German auteur F.W. Murnau, Schlingensief’s stunningly kaleidoscopic celluloid nightmare certainly seems like it would be the product of a endearingly egomaniacal fellow who has no time or interest in bothering to respect or identify with the political and aesthetic fashions of his day and age. In fact, the genesis of the film was more or less the almost unanimous hostility towards the director's previous film, the hysterically hilarious and nihilistically nasty feces-and-barf-covered Nazi family farce Menu total (1986), which Wim(p) Wenders walked out of after 10 minutes during its premiere and which Schlingensief's ex-teacher Werner Nekes apparently described as “fascistic.” Indeed, apparently kraut queer actor Udo Kier, who the filmmaker did not know at the time, was the only one to congratulate Schlingensief on his film after its debut and the two subsequently decided to collaborate with one another right then and there, or as the auteur stated in the documentary Christoph Schlingensief und seine Filme (2005) aka Christoph Schlingensief and His Films regarding their auspicious meeting and the birth of Egomania: “Suddenly, someone grabs my hand and says, “I’m Udo Kier.” And I didn’t know who he was at first, I must confess. All I knew was I recognized his face from somewhere. I probably knew him from Andy Warhol’s “Dracula” but when I heard the name I really didn’t know who on earth he was. “I saw your film [Menu Total]. I killed myself laughing.” And I was so pleased that I had finally met someone who said that he killed himself laughing over my film. “The faces were so distorted and I thought the stuff they were saying was hilarious. Would you like to join me?” And so Tilda and I sat down next to him and on that evening we decided that we would make a film together and we drew up a contract on a napkin: “We will make a film.” We planned to start shooting three weeks later.” Of course, Kier would go on to star in virtually every one of Schlingensief's subsequent films and the rest is history.
Segmented by excerpts from the work Der Illusionismus und die Rettung der Persönlichkeit (1895) written by kraut iconoclast Oskar Panizza—a now little known Bavarian-born avant-garde wordsmith and psychiatrist of Italian and French aristocratic Huguenot extraction who spent a year in prison after being charged with 93 counts of blasphemy for his tragicomedy Das Liebeskonzil (1894) aka The Love Council, which Schlingensief’s cinematic hero Werner Schroeter adapted in 1982 (notably, the film was banned in Austria in 1985 due to its perceived anti-Catholic sentiments)—Egomania is also a work where the aberrant-garde auteur pays tribute to his similarly subversive Aryan forbearers. As for cinematic influences, Egomania seems to be a love letter to the more impenetrable avant-garde works of decadent European arthouse dandies like Werner Schroeter and Derek Jarman, but also the anarchistic (anti)Heimat films of Herbert Achternbusch, ethereal celluloid pilgrimages of Werner Herzog, naked melodramas of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the pioneering celluloid poems of cinematic master F.W. Murnau (Udo Kier plays a Nosferatu/Dracula-like figure), and even the mystical mountain films of Dr. Arnold Fanck and Leni Riefenstahl. Of course, when it comes down to it, the film is pure and unadulterated Schlingensief, albeit at his most brazenly cinematic and eccentrically esoteric. An anti-Vergangenheitsbewältigung work where the director mocks the post-WWII German obsession with Auschwitz and whatnot, Egomania is set on a snow and ice-ridden island that seems like some Teutonic pandemonium in between heaven and hell whose inhabitants’ minds have been frozen in the past as if cursed by the Semitic scorn of Adorno and thus suffer perennial melancholia and loneliness. The exceedingly eccentric yet equally aesthetically exquisite story of two lovers who find their relationship tested when an evil demonic cross-dressing aristocrat becomes jealous of their love and happiness and tirelessly attempts to tear them apart and make the woman his, Schlingensief's film ultimately tells a classic story in a rather wayward fashion that reminds one why the director was arguably Germany's very last serious auteur filmmaker and true romantic.
A feverishly foreboding yet sometimes farcical metaphysical horror melodrama with a completely captivating dream logic and loony labyrinthine (non)storyline that makes full use of cinema's distinct power as a moving visual art like the great silent works of the German expressionist period, as well as the cine-magic works of Kenneth Anger, Egomania opens with a beauteous blue shot of a Gothic castle and with the film’s narrator stating: “Once upon a time on an isolated island in the ocean there lived a handful of people. Their thoughts were formed in different languages and they tried to find the common words. In the beginning they were peaceful and helped each other. But soon harmony was overcome by antagonism. The father loves his son – but the son not his mother. Death loves life – but life not birth. The front is in the back and the back suddenly is in the front.” Udo Kier plays an eloquent yet eccentric aristocrat of the evil and bloodthirsty yet eternally suffering sort named Baron Tante Teufel (which translates to “Aunt Devil” or “Devil’s Aunt”) and he is a Dr. Faustus-esque figure who takes on various material and spiritual forms, including the Devil, Nosferatu/Dracula (indeed, in some ways, Kier's character is a parody of his role in Paul Morrissey's 1974 cult classic Blood for Dracula), a demonic drag queen, the Flying Dutchman and the sort of iconic and handsome Satanic Teutonic dandy that was probably best personified by horror novelist Hanns Heinz Ewers, whose legacy was forsaken by his Faustian pact with the Third Reich. Baron Teufel constantly suffers hallucinations as caused by both good and bad memories, including the brutal stoning to death of one of his assumed lovers, as well as his seemingly happy marriage to his sweetheart as a prepubescent boy. The Baron is the father of a seemingly nice and would-be-heroic fellow named William (Uwe Fellensiek)—a fellow that bears a striking resemblance to Schlingensief and can be seen as his alter-ego—who, when not suffering nightmares relating to his pernicious pappy and his murderous behavior, longs for his redheaded beloved Sally (Tilda Swinton), who is a poor Brünhilde-like proletarian girl who oftentimes sports a medieval cloak and carries away the corpse of a sort of Aryan Christ at the beginning of the film with the help of old women wearing the same cloaks. She and William’s love will be tested by the Baron, who wants nothing more than to destroy the young lady and everything she has and then make her his wife.
Aided by his slavishly loyal ‘Aryan Christ’ servant ‘Anatol’ (Schlingensief/Helge Schneider regular Sergej Gleitmann), Baron Tante Teufel trudges through the snow and mud while attempting to exorcise the haunting memories that have caused him pangs of guilt and that incessantly haunt his conscious and subconscious. One late night, like an incubus, the Baron appears in Sally’s bed and when the young lady declares, “I’m so ill,” he replies in a deep demonic voice, “You’re the devil, not me.” Indeed, the Baron is not the devil, but ‘The Devil Aunt,’ at least when he dresses in drag and plots to destroy the young woman and her love for her lover and unborn son. After being visited by a boorish and bawdy bitch named Ria (Schlingensief regular Anna Fechter) who attempts to coerce him to kill “the whore” Sally, the Baron comes up with the master plan to kill her child (she is pregnant with William’s child) and to destroy everything she has so that she will become his loving wife. After using Anatol to stone to death the local captain so that he can steal his ship, The Baron, who is in his “Devil’s Aunt” persona, drinks some red wine in a crazed fashion as if he is a fiendish vampire drinking blood and, with the help of Ria and some other old haggard wench, steals Sally away from William and sails away in the icy waters. From there, William wanders through the forests and back to his family castle home where he comes under the wing of his pernicious father, who demands that he forget Sally. Meanwhile, Sally gives birth to her and William’s son, who does not get to know his father who is literally and figuratively blinded by the Baron. Indeed, when Sally and their son randomly bump into William and the Baron on the beach, the former cannot see his beloved or progeny. While Sally attempts to get the attention of William, the Baron mocks her and pushes her around like some sort of old queen bully. Eventually, the Baron also kidnaps William and Sally’s child and does some bizarre satanic rituals with it. Broken and desperate as a result of losing both her lover and child, Sally comes to the Baron in a groveling fashion and tells him that she will do anything for him to waive the curse he has put on her, so the demonic blueblood bastard kisses her and makes her his. In the end, William shows up at the Baron’s castle on horseback like a knight in shining armor and battles his demonic daddy, who has become drunk with evil and eats William and Sally’s baby, kills his servant Anatol, and loses whatever semblance of sanity he had left. Luckily, William and Sally manage to escape together into the sunlight.