Nov 21, 2014
As the nation that produced arguably cinema history’s greatest and most ambitious female filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will, Tiefland), as well as numerous eclectic female art house and avant-garde auteur directors, including pioneering animator Lotte Reiniger (The Adventures of Prince Achmed, The Magic Flute), proto-feminist Ula Stöckl (Neun Leben hat die Katze aka The Cat Has Nine Lives, Geschichten vom Kübelkind aka Tales Of The Dumpster Kid), Sapphic surrealist and adventurer ethnologist Ulrike Ottinger (Freak Orlando, Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press), and subversive feminist Helma Sanders-Brahms (Heinrich, Germany, Pale Mother), among countless others, Germany (as well as its Germanic brother nation Austria, which produced aberrant auteuress Valie Export and cyber-dyke director A. Hans Scheirl, and Bulgarian-born iconoclastic avant-gardist Mara Mattuschka), the Teutonic Fatherland is incontestably the greatest producer of notable filmmakers of the ‘fairer sex,’ so I typically tend to be less dismissive when approaching flicks directed by kraut chicks as opposed to their American counterparts. Of course, considering the relatively sorry state of German cinema today, I am hesitant to watch any Teutonic films, let alone those directed by women, yet after hearing good things about 30-year-old Fräulein filmmaker Katrin Gebbe’s award winning debut feature Tore tanzt (2013) aka Nothing Bad Can Happen, I figured what the hell and learned soon after watching the flick that the Fatherland still has some of the most ferocious film directors in the entire world. A seemingly pathologically paced passion piece about a gawky young Christian punk cult member (or “Jesus Freak”) who goes on a decidedly deleterious Christ-like journey of the truly transcendental sort after becoming the unofficial member of an ‘evil’ untermenschen white trash family who, in the most vulgar and despicable ways imaginable, test his faith and determination to living the way Jesus did by “turning the other cheek,” no matter what the consequences, Gebbe’s paradoxically dejecting yet somewhat uplifting debut was apparently inspired by “true events,” as well as by the “purely positive” titular character of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic novel The Idiot (1869).
A work that seems more influenced by the transgressive arthouse works of directors associated with the so-called ‘New French Extremity’ like Philippe Grandrieux (Sombre, Un Lac) and Bruno Dumont (Twentynine Palms, Hors Satan), the Dogme 95 period works of Lars von Trier, and the proletarian-perpetrated horror of films like James Watkins’ Eden Lake (2008) and Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown (2011) than those associated with contemporary kraut film movements like the mostly banal ‘Berlin School’ (aka ‘Berliner Schule’) and the bombastic and pageantry-plagued films of so-called ‘neo-romantic’ filmmakers like Tom Tykwer, Nothing Bad Can Happen is certainly a fresh change of pace for German cinema, as an audacious low-budget work with a conflicted yet potent spirit that, despite its seemingly foreign influences, says a great deal about modern Germany and its post-WWII Volksgeist. Indeed, while largely a work about testing one’s faith in the face of the ultimate evil, the flick also tackles the oftentimes tragic Teutonic traditional of unwavering idealism which led to, among other things, the Protestant Reformation, the National Socialist revolution, the birth of New German Cinema (as outlined in the Oberhausen Manifesto of 1962), and the far-left terrorism of the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Of course, like the four above mentioned phenomena, Nothing Bad Can Happen also ends with death. A devastating depiction of a sort of patently pacifistic Christian (anti)Faustian man who sacrifices himself and finds a sort of redemption in the end, Gebbe’s three chapter modernist metaphysical horror show reminds the viewer why ‘arthouse’ is not always a synonym for banality, pretense, or asininity.
Tore (novice actor Julius Feldmeier in his first feature film) is a tall, blond, and blue-eyed Hallstatt Nordic Jesus addict (with unusually curly hair who somewhat resembles Martin Gore of Depeche Mode) who suffers from epilepsy and belongs to a Hamburg-based chapter of the punk rock Christian group the “Jesus Freaks” and he takes his recent baptism rather seriously and seems totally incapable of negative thoughts and emotions, though one assumes that, like his fellow cult members, he comes from a broken home. Tore is best friends with a seemingly delinquent and destitute but equally Christ-crazed young man named ‘Owl’ aka ‘Eule’ (Daniel Michel of Florian Eichinger’s Nordstrand (2013)), who converted him to "Christcore" because Tore enjoys singing hardcore punk songs with lyrics like, “There’s only one way you can be saved. You must overcome your fear, and trust in god. Jesus, show me the way. I believe in you, and have no fear. What can man do to me?” and who, in typically Christ-like fashion, enjoys helping anyone that he can. One day, Tore and Owl attempt to help a family whose car has broken down by praying to Jesus to fix the folks' truck and somewhat magically, the Lord answers their prayers. Despite having seen a miracle of sorts performed on his GMC redneck truck engine, the patriarch of the family, Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak of the popular German TV series Tatort)—a small, swarthy, and stocky man with serious anger issues—doubts the power of “the Captain of the Universe”, but he takes up Tore’s offer to come by the local Jesus Freak bar/venue to hear the latest Christ-phile punk rock sermon. When Tore sees Benno at the Jesus Freak show while moshing like a spastic toddler to a holy punk band ‘Magic Messiah’, he suffers a seizure, so the patriarch picks him up, puts him in the back of his truck, and brings him back to the dilapidated trailer/shack of the lowbred sadomasochistic white trash family for which he will ultimately become a saintly Aryan yet avowedly masochistic sacrifice.
Although initially a seemingly caring and friendly fellow who sometimes likes to use playful sarcasm to poke fun at Christ and Christianity, Benno soon begins showing his true, rather demonic self, especially after he becomes jealous of Tore’s totally harmless relationship with his 15-year-old tomboy stepdaughter Sanny (German pop/soul singer Swantje Kohlhof). Indeed, although Benno has two children, melancholy teen Sanny and a prepubescent boy named Dennis (Til-Niklas Theinert), neither of them are biologically his as they are from his wife Astrid’s (Annika Kuhl of Leander Haußmann’s Lehmann (2003) and Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)) previous relationship, thus he feels he has the right to rape his stepdaughter. When Tore shows up Benno upon giving Sanny a better present on her birthday (the Jesus Freak gives her an IPod and Benno gives her a giant stuffed kangaroo and a couple of bucks!), the pernicious patriarch decides to punch the Christian in the face in front of all the partygoers. On top of that, Benno also makes Tore his personal slave, coercing him into handing over his welfare debit card and forcing him to do all his lazy wife’s domestic chores. The archetypical worthless whore mother in many ways, Astrid’s only objection to her husband raping her daughter is that she is jealous that he finds her progeny more attractive. As blatant (sub)human garbage who more or less squat in a Hamburg allotment garden (the family seems to be borderline homeless), Benno and Astrid soon begin resenting Tore due to his pure and untainted character and deep faith and employ various sadistic and craven methods in an attempt to break his faith. When Benno self-righteously states, “people always pray when they’re scared shitless” and Tore replies “courage is when you trust god,” the pernicious patriarch becomes so enraged he begins beating the Jesus Freak, who suffers a seizure as a result. While Tore attempts to go back to his Jesus Freak commune after suffering Benno’s psychopathic brutality, he discovers that the Hamburg branch of the cult has been closed and while his friend Owl offers to take him to Berlin, the warrior of Christ ultimately comes to the conclusion that he must go back to the untermensch family as a test from god, even proclaiming while praying to the Lord, “Jesus, I know Benno is my test.” Of course, judging by what Tore ultimately endures at the savage hands of Benno and his wife, one might assume that Christ was a scheming psychopath who got a kick out of completely destroying people for his own sadistic pleasure.
When Tore goes back to Benno’s less than humble abode, he is treated as if he is a non-person and someone that does not even exist. Indeed, on top of no longer being allowed to eat at the dinner table, Tore is no longer allowed to eat period, as Benno has his wife lock up all the food in cabinets in the shitty shack, so the Jesus Freak must resort to eating crumbs he finds around the house and digging through the trash. On top of that, Benno has his stepson Dennis regularly piss on Tore’s tent in the yard (indeed, even when the Jesus addict was in favor with the family, he was still forced to sleep outside). Only Sanny, who unsurprisingly unsuccessfully attempts to consummate coitus with the Jesus Freak (who is naturally “saving himself” until he is “married”), treats Tore with any respect, though she finds his pacifism and religious faith to be somewhat maddening. Of course, as Tore states to Sanny when she mocks religion, “If I don’t believe, I have nothing.” When Astrid discovers that Tore has “stolen” a rotten baked chicken carcass out of their trash which is now covered in maggots, Benno demands that his wife come up with a punishment for the near-starving Jesus junky, so she recommends that they force him to eat the rancid fowl corpse. Benno and Astrid restrain Tore and literally shove the rotten chicken meat down his throat while the patriarch fiendishly sings the children’s prayer, “god is great and god is good. And we thank him for our food” in a malevolently and maniacally mocking fashion, thus causing the Jesus Freak to become terribly ill to the point of being on the brink of death. Luckily, Sanny manages to sneak Tore out of her family’s dilapidated home and calls an ambulance after dropping him off at a train station. While Sanny tells Tore never to return, the Jesus Freak does just the opposite after recuperating in the hospital. While in the hospital, Tore hallucinates seeing a small Christ on a crucifix transforming into the real full-size J.C.—hemorrhaging hands and all—so he sees it as a sign that he must carry out his mission and return to bastard Benno for more tests of his selflessness and faith. Indeed, all of these brutal experiences have only reinforced his faith and and he seems to realize that going back to Benno will be a mission of no return, but he has a girl to save and a god to satisfy.
When Tore returns to Benno’s home after his extended stay in the hospital, the patriarch gives him food and even lets him eat with the family again, but of course, the scheming little sadist has big plans for the hopelessly naive Jesus Freak. Indeed, one night Benno drives Tore to a homo whorehouse and sells the virgin's untouched bunghole to a nearly elderly ponytailed creep named Dieter (Uwe Dag Berlin of Oskar Roehler’s Quellen des Lebens (2013) aka Sources of Life and Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man (2014)), who brutally buggers the boy to the point where blood drips down his leg and goes down the drain when he takes a shower after being anally pillaged. Despite being regularly defiled by a truly dirty old man, Tore handles his beyond hellish circumstances like an ‘impenetrable’ champ and even seems to get comfortable with his most unfortunate circumstances. Of course, Tore’s stoicism towards being a slave to sadistic sodomy only all the more infuriates Benno, as he cannot seem to put even a small dent in the boy wonder’s faith. Determined to break Tore’s faith by allowing him the opportunity to get revenge, Benno forces the boy to sit on his stomach and smother his face with a pillow, but the Jesus Freak just cannot find it in himself to truly attempt to rightfully murder his perennial tormentor. When Sanny walks in on Tore feebly attempting to suffocate Benno with the pillow, she joins in and begins ruthlessly killing her stepfather with a sort of bestial passion of a slave who has finally gotten the opportunity to get back at their master. Determined not to allow her to fall into the forsaken existence of being a sinful murderer, Tore stops Sanny right before Benno is about to take his last gasp. Of course, Benno is enraged when he realizes that his stepdaughter/sex slave has tried to kill him, so he takes the girl’s beloved electric keyboard and nearly beats Tore to death with it. After that, Benno demands that his wife Astrid “deal” with Tore, so she and her equally bottom-feeding ghetto whore friend Cora (Nadine Boske) pull down his pants, put out their cheap cigarettes on his head, and begin spitting all over his face like they are sadistic toddlers. From there, Astrid begins crushing Tore’s genitals with a pair of stilettos she is wearing and utters the very real threat, “we can cut something off.” Needless to say, Tore meets a grizzly end, but in his own way, he carried out his Christ-like mission, with Sanny and her kid brother receiving another chance at life. As for Benno, he is even more hateful and resentful in the end, as a man who beat, raped, tortured, and starved the truly pure and innocent Jesus Freak, but never destroyed his spirit.
While one film critic has gone so far as to describe Nothing Bad Can Happen as being, “reminiscent of Lars von Trier at his most pessimistic,” Gebbe’s film ultimately has a much more hopeful message as the flick may portray the protagonist as a hopeless naive slave of Christ, but his Christ-like sacrifice not only enables him to obtain transcendence but also save the lives of two previously accursed children who would have never had any chance in life otherwise. Indeed, somewhat ironically, Tore—the slave-morality-ridden Christ fag fanboy who seems to suffer from both schizophrenia and Asperger syndrome—more or less fully implements a more metaphysical take on Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power by realizing his full potential in regard to his faith and majorly masochistic determination to “turn the other cheek.” Interestingly, Gebbe did not conceive of the religious angle of the film until later while writing the screenplay and she was not really aiming to make a film that critiques Christianity or wallows in callous von Trier-esque cynicism as most reviewers seem to believe, or as the auteur stated herself in a summer 2014 interview with The Moveable Fest: “I didn’t want to have answers to everything, but I felt it could be really interesting to put on one side a lot of darkness and have a really beautiful, super-perfect protagonist who’s very moral as a contrast. He would forgive everything, he would allow everything. He would be like a modern Jesus Christ or as we were also discussing it, a modern Gandhi or something like this, but I felt the Christian religion is something a lot of people know about.” Christianity aside, I think Gebbe’s ‘true believer’ brand of faith is quite typical in Germany and the rest of the Occident, albeit in a more ‘modern’ post-Christian humanist form. Indeed, the cultural marxist and multiculturalist true believers who insist on flooding their nations with largely hostile aliens from the third world despite the fact that multi(cult)uralism has proven to be an abject failure as indicated by the fact foreigners commit the vast majority of murders, rapes, and violent crimes in Europe and virtually all live on welfare demonstrates that these exceedingly ethnomasochistic Europeans subscribe to a sort of nihilistic post-Christian faith. After all, how else does one explain a feminist blaming white racism for the fact that she was raped by an African negro or the fact a white European can receive more jail time for ostensibly ‘denying’ the holocaust than a gang of Arab teens would receive for gang-raping a white girl (not to mention the fact it was recently exposed that the British government tried to cover up that Pakistanis were running a massive 1,400-victim slavery ring mostly comprised of white girls ages 12-15). Indeed, when Tore states, “If I don’t believe, I have nothing,” it is a virtual metaphor for the post-counterculture Western/Central European mindset. Like Tore of Nothing Bad Can Happen, it seems these faithful ethno-masochists, which comprise the bulk of modern Europeans, will only be happy when they are raped, beaten, tortured, and bred out of existence and/or left for dead, for only then will their ‘post-racial’ utopia be fully realized.
Interestingly, the three chapters of Nothing Bad Can Happen—‘Faith’, ‘Love’, and ‘Hope’—also are the names of the films in Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl’s recent "Paradise” (aka Paradies”) trilogy, but as director Gebbe stated in the interview with The Moveable Fest, it was a mere coincidence, or as she explained: “It was not that we saw the films and thought, “Oh, he had a good idea.” [laughs] Later on, I heard about this trilogy and then I thought “Ack, this sucks.” But I wouldn’t change it because of Ulrich Seidl. He didn’t invent it. [laughs].” Although Gebbe’s film has some superficial aesthetic resemblances to Seidl's work, Nothing Bad Can Happen owes more to the darkly transcendent films of French auteur filmmakers like Philippe Grandrieux and Bruno Dumont. A work that could have degenerated into a tedious torture-porn flick or a plodding Petzold-esque ‘arthouse’ turd if put in the wrong hands, the film demonstrates that Gebbe is a restrained yet empathetic filmmaker who knows how to horrify and deject without resorting to mindless shock gimmicks, as a rare modern day German filmmaker who is not afraid of emotion and does not bow down to political correctness. I am sure if misandristic feministic hack Margarethe von Trotta saw Nothing Bad Can Happen—a film where the white trash wife of the antagonist is just as bad, if nothing worse than her husband—she would denounce it as misogynistic. Indeed, one can only hope that Gebbe has started a new post-feminist trend in German filmmaking where a female director is judged by her actual artistic talent as opposed to feminist polemics, pathological misandry, and artistic posturing. Unlike brazenly banal filmmakers associated with the Berlin School, Gebbe not only hopes to bring life, passion, and spirit back to Teutonic cinema, but also hopes that her countrymen stop masochistically dwelling on the past and, in turn, sacrificing their artistic potential out of irrational fear and creating more pointless beaten-to-death Vergangenheitsbewältigung garbage (sometimes I seriously wonder if German children are forced to recite kosher commie Adorno's 1949 dictum “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” each night before they go to bed), or as she stated herself in an interview with Peter Krausz: “In my mind, Germany is still a country which fears the past because of its history. I guess nobody wants to do something wrong. Everybody tries to fit in this sort of scheme. But the new challenge is about trying to experiment a little bit more. A new movement is developing. I’m sure that there is potential out there and I hope that we get the chance to see a lot of great work in the future.” While Gebbe will probably never become the next Leni Riefenstahl, she has already proved that she has more testicular fortitude than 99% of her kraut male counterparts as a sort of female Matthias Glasner, albeit slightly less nihilistic. I might be being a tad bit optimistic, but Nothing Bad Can Happen almost gives me the ‘faith’ that Germany will soon have its next great cinema Renaissance since the New German Cinema era, with the assumedly not-too-faraway deaths of the von Trottas, Schlöndorffs, and the rest of the old leftist fart filmmakers being a most auspicious time for it to commence.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 7:52 AM
Soiled Sinema 2007 - 2013. All rights reserved. Best viewed in Firefox and Chrome.