Mar 13, 2015

Verhängnis




Although more active nowadays as a cinematographer who has shot various important contemporary European arthouse works, most notably the last two films of Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr and his wife Ágnes Hranitzky, including The Man from London (2007) aka A londoni férfi and The Turin Horse (2011) aka A torinói ló, Fred Kelemen—a Berlin-born fellow of half-hun/half-Hungarian descent who has an exceedingly effete essence about him—is also an ‘auteur’ filmmaker who, due to the relative unavailability of most of his work and the puffery-plagued praise that he has received from important far-left-wing intellectual gatekeepers like degenerate Jewess Susan ‘White People Are Cancer’ Sontag, has gone on to gain a sort of ‘mythical’ status among a certain group of cinephiles that like plodding arthouse works, especially of the Eastern European sort, were nothing really happens. Kelemen has been compared to everyone from Werner Herzog to Alexander Sokurov and is known for mainly making fairly long and monotonous quasi-realist films of the ultra-gritty and largely dialogue-less kind that lack anything resembling a plot, feature obnoxiously over-extended and static scenes in dark rooms and alleyways, and contain mostly poor, unattractive, and desperate Slavic foreigners living in Aryan urban gutters that oftentimes lurk around the seediest of bars. The film that made a name for Kelemen is the 80-minute feature Verhängnis (1994) aka Fate, which is actually a student film that the director made as his graduation project at the German Film & TV Academy in Berlin, yet it ultimately got great praise from Sontag (who gave the film an honorable mention in her largely pessimistic essay ‘The Decay of Cinema’) and various other important critics and even went on to have an American premiere in 1996 at the Anthology Film Archives in New York. In fact, a German friend of mine who attended the same Berlin school at the same time as the filmmaker told me that Kelemen was considered a superstar there and the poster for Verhängnis was even hung on the wall of the institution in tribute to his legacy. What interested me about the film aside from its fairly short length in comparison to the director’s other works (for example, Kelemen’s subsequent feature Frost (1997) is a whopping 270-minutes) is that it was shot on shitty Hi-8 video (the preferred format of skateboard videos during the 1990s) and transferred to 16mm film in a manner to make it look as shitty as possible, thereupon giving it a unique ultra ‘lo-fi’ aesthetic essence that underscores the decidedly degrading and destitute tone of the work. 



 When interviewed for WKCR-FM on March 4th, 1996 following his film's screening at the Anthology Film Archives, Kelemen stated regarding his goal with Verhängnis, “I wanted to show that a human being is not pure, that people are not units. To create impure pictures relates more to the truth about human beings,” adding, “…I think it can be very interesting to move away from the idea of pureness and technical perfection. Pureness is a myth, and the ideology of pureness has created much pain in the world. I think there are no pure feelings and no pure people and no pure races.” Aside from the patently pretentious and clichéd pseudo-humanistic nature of his remarks, I find it rather pathetic and ethno-masochistic on Kelemen’s part to ‘apologize in advance’ for his Teutonic background by alluding to National Socialism, thus leading me to conclude that the director is, at best a pussy, and, at worst, a lying sack of shit who makes ‘poverty porn’ disguised as humanist poetry to appeal to the vain and patronizing lumpenprole fetishism of trendy left-wing bourgeois filmgoers, critics, and academics who somehow think it is enlightening to watch poor and uneducated dipsomaniacs act in a ridiculously self-destructive fashion so that they can get the masochistic thrill of feeling guilty for being ‘privileged.’ Still, while Kelemen does not really say anything particularly profound, new, or insightful with Verhängnis, the film does feature an undeniably potent  foreboding atmosphere, pleasantly grating aesthetic, and ultimately unwittingly reveals the cultural and moral decay that accompanies contemporary social phenomenons like multiculturalism and globalization (with deracinated half-Magyar director Kelemen himself being a direct living and breathing product of these things). Undoubtedly, the film proves why Kelemen has had a more fruitful career as a cinematographer than an auteur, as he is great at setting up and capturing bold images, especially in dark and somberly lit post-industrial hellholes, but does not have a strong enough personal vision to become a great auteur.   Indeed, like the downloadable portraits of himself that Kelemen posted on his personal website, Verhängnis is certainly stylish but ultimately lacks character.



 If Rainer Werner Fassbinder demonstrated in his classic Sirkian work Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) aka Angst essen Seele auf that Arabs prefer hanging around their own little ghetto microcosms while living abroad in Krautland, Kelemen more or less demonstrates that Russians and other Slavs do the same in Verhängnis, which is set in a Slavicized Berlin ghetto where vodka and sex seem like the only things that make life worth living. Of course, as the film ultimately demonstrates, vodka and sex can surely make for a deleterious and sometimes even deadly combo, especially after a poor fellow has busted his ass all day after a hard day of drinking and attempting to scam money, only to come home to find his girlfriend fucking another dude. After a pretentious quote from the Dalai Lama and gritty slow-motion opening montage vaguely in the style of the concluding post-rape scene in Larry Clark’s Kids (1995) featuring various middle-aged to elderly hobo-like Slavs lurking around Berlin as if the city is one big giant third world loony bin, the film cuts to a nighttime shot of a somewhat young Russian illegal alien named Valery (Valerij Fedorenko) playing his accordion while sitting on some stairs outside of some undisclosed building. Eventually, a fat, stocky, and swarthy fellow walks up to Valery, compliments his accordion playing, and invites him to come back to his apartment to play for him for money. Unfortunately for Valery, he unwitting ends up going to the apartment of a seasoned untermensch sadist who gets a craven kick out of taunting the monetarily disadvantaged, especially if they are Russian. Indeed, while the fellow pulls out a fresh bill for Valery as if he is going to give it to him in exchange for his musical services, he takes it away when the street musician goes to grab it. On top of that, the fellow gets extremely agitated while Valery is playing and makes him stop and play a different song. Ultimately, the man ‘pays’ Valery for his performance with an entire mug of cheap vodka that he more or less forces the musician to drink and then proceeds to throw him out of his apartment in a rather violent fashion, as if he is throwing away a piece of rancid garbage.  Surely, the way Valery is abused makes it quite clear that Verhängnis is partly an homage to Herzog's Stroszek, which also centers around an oftentimes abused and belittled Berlin-based street musician of the alcohol-addled sort who plays his accordion in the streets.  Unfortunately, also like the eponymous character of Herzog's film, Valery has a whorish girlfriend whose lecherous behavior gets him in trouble.



 After being thoroughly degraded by a considerably ugly and mean-spirited little turd of a swarthy sadist, Valery becomes terribly upset and while in a seemingly possessed state decides to wander towards a brightly beaming light in a large water fountain in a marginally transcendental scene where it seems as if the character has just entered the gates of hell. While standing in the fountain with his feet and parts of his legs immersed in water, Valery cries like a wounded animal and thrashes at the water in a scene that transitions to a photo of a small pile of dead corpses, including a baby, as if to hint that the character suffers from PTSD as a result of experiencing the horrors of war when he still lived in his native communist homeland. After playing in the water fountain, Valery heads to a seedy local bar where he gets even drunker and eventually plays a game of pool for cash with some fellow immigrants. While Valery wins the game, he has to pull a knife out upon collecting his rightfully earned award from the pool table, as his competitors are sore losers and begin approaching as if planning to attack him in a vicious fashion. While Valery makes it out of the bar unscathed, he has to watch behind his shoulder while running down a sidewalk to make sure that he is not being chased by the losers of the pool game. Before heading back to his girlfriend’s (and possibly his) apartment, Valery decides to take a brief rest by sitting on the sidewalk, not realizing that he will eventually walk into a nightmarish situation that every man dreads that he will ultimately never return from, at least emotionally. 



 When Valery arrives at the front door of his girlfriend’s apartment, he decides to eavesdrop for a little bit and then eventually demands that he be allowed to come inside, but his little lady refuses to allow him inside as if she is hiding something from him, which she most certainly is. After a little bit of yelling back and forth between him and his ladylove Ljuba (played by German actress Sanja Spengler, who later had a small role in Oskar Roehler’s Die Unberührbare (2000) aka No Place to Go), Valery becomes fed up and swiftly kicks open the door of the apartment, only to find his girlfriend completely naked with the exception of a robe and a naked man that she has clearly just engaged in carnal pleasure with. Needless to say, Valery is infuriated and begins grabbing Ljuba by her hair and smacking her around while her shocked secret lover begins slowly putting on his clothes so he can make his escape, but the gutter accordionist notices what he is doing and pulls a gun on him before the fellow can leave. Rather absurdly, Ljuba attempts to grab Varlery’s gun while he has it pointed at her fuckbuddy, thus causing it to go off and instantly kill the poor young stranger after a single bullet penetrates his gut. To figuratively rub her actions in her face, Valery pulls out the money he has earned for her, literally rubs the money in her face, and then abruptly leaves. Of course, the entire situation leaves Ljuba completely broken and she literally pisses herself while staring at the lifeless corpse of her lover. While still wearing nothing but a robe, Ljuba leaves her apartment and runs into the night where her bad luck ultimately gets much worse. 



 Clearly not a wise decision maker, Ljuba decides to go to a seedy bar so that she can drown her misery in cheap vodka. While things start off innocently enough when a seemingly nice young man sits beside her at a table and begins talking to her after she ends up choking on her first glass of vodka, Ljuba finds things getting a little bit heated when a swarthy Arab-like guy makes her dance with him and in the process notices she is completely naked under her robe. When Ljuba’s dance partner gets a little excited after seeing her supple breasts and bushy beaver, she is angered and pushes him, so he pushes her back and knocks her flat on her face in front of everyone in the bar. Things seem to calm down after a slutty and slightly beautiful blonde barmaid helps Ljuba get up and the grateful character repays the woman by giving her a passionate erotically-charged kiss, but the violent dickhead of a dancer’s equally swarthy friend soon decides to sit at the quasi-protagonist’s table and it does not take long for him to get under the table and begin molesting her by rubbing his face on her bare pussy while groping her breasts. Needless to say, Ljuba’s experience at the bar ends in brutal gang-rape. The next morning, Ljuba wakes up in a field with her robe open and proceeds to start the new day by smoking a post-rape cigarette in a blue-tinted scene that screams ‘nuclear winter.’ After staring into space while standing near a ruined old factory, Ljuba begins walking and is soon joined by her boyfriend Valery of all people in a scenario that is most certainly a curiously unlikely instance of seemingly fated happenstance. While Ljuba and her murderous boy toy begin walking together and eventually go out of frame, a bulldozer appears out of nowhere and begins following their direction as if to hint that all of humanity and the ugly vulgar post-industrial world it has created should be wiped out from the face of this earth (of course, I doubt this was Kelemen’s intent). 



 When asked by a fellow named Ryan Deussing during a 1996 interview with WKCR-FM about the fact that the lead characters in Verhängnis are immigrants and if he was “thinking about Germany or about politics” when he developed the film, director Fred Kelemen responded with a transparent ‘bleeding heart’ by preposterously stating, “I think everyone should find a way to live that is not cynical, especially people who make something for an audience. You have to be very aware of what you're doing, and I try not to make films that are ‘against’ what is happening around me. I try to show everything, but not out of cynicism—that’s important to me and to why I made this film. And sure they're aliens, but in a sense we are all aliens—we find ourselves in a world we don't understand. We are alienated from ourselves, as well, because we fight the world and we fight each other and we fight our own desires. We all want love, we just don't understand how to get it.”  Of course in its depiction of a man being taunted for being Russian and later taking out all of his pent up rage on a stranger, the preposterous message of the film is that you should not be racist to someone as it might lead to murder, which is certainly the moronic sort of excuse that leftist and cultural marxist types use to explain why the majority of crimes in Germany and the rest of Europe are committed by foreigners (though, of course, it is mainly Turks and other Arabs that commit these crimes and not Russians). Indeed, aside from the film featuring a quite cynical depiction of how Russian immigrants act and respond to situations, Verhängnis seems to almost romanticize a world of ghetto poverty where rape and murder are as commonplace as taking a shit or turning on a light switch. In its depiction of a woman seeing her lover murdered and being gang-raped in what seems to be the span of a couple hours or so, Kelemen’s film is a work that, despite its hyper-gritty realism, features an extremely rather unlikely sequence of events that are about as plausible as those featured in the average Hollywood blockbuster thriller. 



 Notably, Kelemen’s collaborator Béla Tarr once stated regarding what makes a true auteur filmmaker, “If you are a real filmmaker you have to have your own style, your own language. Which is depending on your cultural background, your history, and your budget of course, and a lot of things what you already have. Because as I see, what I think, filmmaking is a kind of reaction to the world-you're just telling people how you see the world, from your point of view of course. But, you know, that's the reason why I do not listen for the other circumstances, what the other people are doing-because it's impossible to follow someone, impossible to say OK this is a trend, or what we would like to keep it or-it's definitely fake, wrong way. You have to be yourself, you have to tell everything from your side and you do have to have your own language; and if you have your own language you don't care about the world and anything really and that's what I feel, what I learned during these 34 years.” While Kelemen has somewhat of his own style, his works hardly seem like the product of a man who has his “own language” and doesn’t “care about the world and anything really,” as his message regarding the troubles that foreigners face in Germany is just as reductionist-oriented and hysterical as the sort of verbal vomit regurgitated by liberal arts college sociology professors and leftist special interest groups.  Indeed, aside from Verhängnis depicting Russians as barbaric ‘white niggers’ in a manner that will certainly appeal to mainstream left-wing film critics and academics, the film features nothing new as far as the history of post-WWII German cinema is concerned. Aside from being aesthetically similar to the gritty realist works of past German filmmakers like Uwe Frießner (Das Ende des Regenbogens aka The End of the Rainbow, Der Drücker) and Uwe Schrader (Kanakerbraut aka White Trash, Sierra Leone), Kelemen’s films are so much like the German era works of relatively forgotten Iranian auteur Sohrab Shahid Saless (Reifezeit aka Time of Maturity, Utopia) in terms of style, content, themes, and general essence that some would probably accuse him of aesthetic plagiarism. Indeed, Saless made long, plotless, and poorly lit 3+ hour-long films about foreigners living in squalor in Berlin before Kelemen’s balls even dropped. 



 As for works that were shot on archaic video and transferred to film, John Wintergate’s bizarre horror-comedy Boardinghouse (1982), which was shot on Betacam and blown up to 35mm, was released well over a decade before Verhängnis, though one must admit that Kelemen’s work has a rather raw and strangely solacing look to it that demonstrates the director’s talent as a cinematographer. Indeed, Kelemen’s work with Tarr proves that he contributes more to the cinema world as a cinematographer than as a director. After all, Dutch cinematographer Jan de Bont shot some of the greatest arthouse works of  post-WWII Dutch cinema, including Adriaan Ditvoorst’s Ik kom wat later naar Madra (1965) aka That Way to Madra and De blinde Fotograaf aka The Blind Photographer (1973), as well as Paul Verhoeven’s Turkish Delight (1973) aka Turks fruit and The 4th Man (1983) aka De vierde man, yet the Hollywood blockbusters he directed upon becoming a filmmaker like Twister (1996) and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) are pure and unadulterated celluloid shit that seem like they were assembled by the all the more Asperger-plagued brother of Michael Bay. While I certainly will not complain if Kelemen continues to direct films, I think he has a better chance at becoming the next Robby Müller than the next Tarkovsky or Fassbinder like some film critics seem to believe. To Kelemen's credit, he admitted in a Februrary 25, 2014 interview with YNET Israel, “There's no difference for me whether I'm shooting a film as a director or only as a cinematographer,” which is certainly not something any serious auteur filmmaker would say.  Undoubtedly, Verhängnis is certainly more interesting than most of the films that have been produced in Germany since the death of Fassbinder/New German Cinema, but of course that says more about the sorry state of contemporary kraut cinema than it does about Kelemen's talent as a filmmaker. 



-Ty E

5 comments:

Tony Brubaker said...

I like the picture where shes running half-naked along the porch, she looks so sweet and vulnerable in that image, as though shes literally screaming out to be caught and then anally raped, what a little darlin`.

David Sanction said...

I wonder if Obama realises that its Saudi Arabia that must be destroyed not Iran ! ?.

Tony Brubaker said...

Jan De Bonts American made blockbusters might well be horse-shit but they`re still infinitely better than anything the British film industry has ever produced, just to put things into the proper perspective again.

Tony Brubaker said...

Stephen Fry is a faggot, the bloody disgusting odious Limey fairy, ANNIHILATE THE BASTARD.

Tony Brubaker said...

Herzog is a great film-maker because he is rampagingly heterosexual where-as Fassbinder was a rubbish film-maker because he was a woofter.