Saturday, April 13, 2013

#154: Nekromantik 2 (Jörg Buttgereit, 1991)

The first Nekromantik is one of those notorious films you hear and read about years before seeing it, if you ever do. At one time banned in its home country of Germany, Nekromantik is currently banned in Iceland, Norway, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and two Canadian provinces, and has been called the most bootlegged film of all time, though that's a statistic impossible to verify. My idea of the movie scared me as a kid and made me feel uncomfortable, even as the film's t-shirt became almost as omnipresent in the late 1980s/early 1990s metal and punk scenes as the Misfits skull shirt. I expected a 1980s German film about corpse fucking to be an unbearable exercise in dreary cinematography, humorless exploitative gore-porn, and general ickiness. I avoided it.
When I decided to watch every film on the Rue Morgue list for this site, I noticed Nekromantik 2 made the cut. I decided to bite the bullet and watch the first film before renting the sequel. My impressions of the film's content and tone were way off, and I suspect most countries that have banned the film haven't taken the time to arrange any screenings. Nekromantik is about corpse fucking and contains scenes of, you guessed it, corpse fucking as well as some extreme gore, but the film is also hilarious, inventive, thoughtfully composed, and a great example of punk and New German Cinema-influenced DIY counterculture that obliterates the lines separating exploitation and art. I liked it very much.
Nekromantik 2 is every bit as good and possibly even better. Buttgereit is working with a relatively higher budget and a more ambitious canvas, and shoots on 16mm instead of the first film's 8mm. Surprisingly, the film has run into less censorship than its predecessor, though the German government seized all domestic prints of the film 12 days after its release and banned it for two years until the case was overturned in 1993. I say "surprisingly" because the protagonist in the sequel is a woman, and female sexuality, particularly transgressive female sexuality, tends to get censors all worked up.
My brief plot description here will contain a few spoilers from the first film, so if you haven't seen it yet and are planning to, you may want to skip this paragraph. Nekromantik 2 opens with Monika (Monika M.), a nurse with a sexual fetish for dead bodies, going to a cemetery to dig up the corpse of Robert, the necrophiliac protagonist from the first film. She read about him in the newspaper and recognized a kindred spirit. Monika takes the rotting body home with her and uses it for sexual pleasure and companionship. She's content with this setup until she meets and falls in love with Mark (Mark Reeder) at an art film theater. (The movie they see is Buttgereit's very funny parody of a bad experimental film: in black and white, a nude couple eat a ridiculous amount of egg cups on the roof of a metropolitan apartment high-rise while the man drones on about various bird genera and species.) Mark is a straight-laced square, though a square on Buttgereit's terms, which means his day job is dubbing American porn films into German. Scenes of his work are some of the film's funniest. Monika genuinely loves Mark enough to dispose of most of Robert's corpse, though she keeps the penis in her refrigerator and the head in a cooler hidden under several blankets in her living room. Her attempts to drop hints to Mark about her erotic proclivities are largely unsuccessful, Mark criticizing these tendencies as perverse. Still, he's drawn to her, and their reconciliation (of sorts) in the film's conclusion is an over-the-top mindblower that even manages to one-up the first film's insane final scene.
The Nekromantik films may appeal only to a small counterculture-friendly niche sensibility, but, despite their reputation, these aren't adolescent gross-out provocations, calculatedly superior winkfests, or hamfisted attempts to be shocking. Buttgereit is a filmmaker like no other, and his presentation is both darkly comic and straightforwardly accepting and matter of fact about his subject matter. There is something bizarrely earnest and even uplifting about these films, though most people you know would probably prefer almost anything else.
As I said already, Buttgereit's films aren't like other movies, but they are part of certain traditions. Buttgereit's dry, dark sense of humor, transgressive subject matter, and independent working methods ally him closely to underground music, literature, and film of the period, and though he's very different in subject matter and the way he moves his camera and edits his material, he shares a peculiar German sensibility with filmmakers like Frank Ripploh, pre-melodrama Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Margarethe Von Trotta that I can't quite do justice to in words other than to again point to the dry humor, the matter of fact portrayal of transgression, and a focused, isolated, uncluttered, labor-intensive, organized urban lifestyle. And there's always that sense of death and an absence of father and mother figures in the generation of filmmakers who followed the Nazis. As Werner Herzog is fond of saying, "We had no mothers and fathers, only grandmothers and grandfathers." There's even a musical number in Nekromantik 2 in the doomed, knowing cabaret ballad tradition that unites such disparate Germans as Kurt Weill, Marlene Dietrich, and Nico. I don't exactly know to whom I could recommend Buttgereit's films, and I wouldn't want to watch them with a crowd of peers with more conventional taste, but I find them unusual, funny, compelling, and true to their creator's sensibilities. I think they are very much worth seeing.

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