Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nothing Bad Can Happen (Tore Tantz)

Katrin Gebbe on the set with Julius Feldmeier

 Katrin Gebbe

Katrin Gebbe

NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN (Tore Tantz)      B         
Germany  (110 mi)  2013  d:  Katrin Gebbe                  Official site

Punk fascism disguised as a religious parable, where Gebbe’s film is the German answer to Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl’s miserablist Paradise Trilogy, Paradise: Love (Paradies: Liebe), Paradise: Faith (Paradies: Glaube), and Paradise: Hope (Paradies: Hoffnung) (2012), with both films divided into three chapters, Faith, Love, and Hope, not necessarily in that order, where it seems the Austrian version was not hard corps enough for this director, who inflicts sadistic brutality with a surgical precision that recalls the punishing treatment of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), where the inflicting punishers go by the Biblical names of Peter (Frank Giering) and Paul (Arno Frisch).  Reaching into her trick bag of mercilessly inflicted brutality, which is all in vogue today with torture porn, Gebbe’s film was invited to Cannes this year in the Un Certain Regard category, largely for its tortuous provocation, as instead of plumbing the depths of her nation’s ills, she’s instead made a graphic exposé of human debasement, which is a well-crafted, but somewhat knee-jerk reaction to these other stylistically powerful films.  Perhaps the one film that may have spawned this degree of anti-humanist miserablism is Seidl’s DOG DAYS (2001), a darkly satiric stab at the banality of evil, as it shows what depths of depravity seemingly ordinary people are capable of, where humiliating others for sport is viewed as foreplay.  While DOG DAYS is all-in when it comes to holding nothing back, forcing the audience to endure unending tales of sadism and misery revealing the dark side of Austrian suburbia, including unsimulated sex that turns to rape, extended torture scenes, acts of extreme humiliation accompanied by threats of murder, where it’s a provocatively vile film that emphasizes all manner of grotesque human behavior, made all the more powerful by the documentary realist style and the unrelentingly depressing tone.  While Haneke was questioning the audience’s implicit involvement in desiring a violent revenge to the insufferable outrage they were witnessing onscreen, he made sure to show viewers that this was only a movie, so the violence witnessed was fictionalized arthouse movie violence.  Gebbe’s film makes no such distinction, but instead places her characters into a mainstream of German society, paralleling the increasingly disturbing behavior shown onscreen with the belligerence of extreme fascist behavior, suggesting a Darwinian “might makes right” form of domination where powerful interests seeking out weaker adversaries to attack and bully is a natural part of human development and not something that can be eliminated from society, even after extensive post-war education efforts.   

Supposedly inspired by an actual event, this has to resonate even more deeply in Germany, home of Hitler’s Third Reich and his extermination plan, perhaps the ultimate example of the strong brutalizing the weak with a blitzkrieg of assaults intended to annihilate one group off the face of the earth.  While the religious aspect is overemphasized, a simplistic exercise in the manner of Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004) painfully graphic Jesus-like suffering is on full display for ardent believers, with various references to the passive teachings of Christ heard throughout, the central character Tore (Julius Feldmeier) may as well be a cult follower, as the problem isn’t the repetitive use of religious text, which has multiple layers of meaning, but his slavishly obsessive robotic adherence to it.  Seen as part of a budding Jesus Freak movement in Hamburg, we know nothing about the background of any of these participants, seen as young street kids with no home to speak of, who seem to be part of a beleaguered underground Christian punk movement obsessed by Biblical catch phrases which they obediently repeat, like Red Book quotations from Chairman Mao, as if this gives their otherwise worthless lives meaning and purpose.  Walking through the streets, imposing their scripture upon others, they’re seen as little more than an annoying nuisance, like Hare Krishna cult followers, instead of a serious fabric of society.  Nonetheless, Tore can be heard praying and asking for divine intervention throughout, as if this is the cure for all ailments.  When his praying miraculously seems to get one man’s stalled car engine started, of course giving all praise to Christ, Tore hands out cards to onlookers for their next musical gathering, making a public spectacle praising the power of Christ.  When we see his followers jumping around to angry punk music with a Christian message targeted specifically to those who have been abused and left destitute, Tone has joined the throng, flailing his arms around, but drops to the floor, seemingly in an epileptic fit where he is ignored until the same man seen earlier in the car cradles him in his arms and places him in his van, supposedly on his way to the hospital when he comes to, but Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak) instead decides to bring him home to his wife Astrid (Annika Kuhl), teenage daughter Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof), who is Tone’s same age, and young son Dennis.  Benno’s friendship and hospitality seems met by empty stares from his family, apparently resigned to doing what they’re told, setting up a tent for him in the back yard while also sharing regular meals. 

Benno quickly starts ridiculing Tone’s naïve religious views, literally punching him in the face at one point, where Tone offers no resistance, becoming his punching bag on a regular basis after that, where Benno seems to enjoy bullying the young kid for pleasure.  Sanny is drawn to Tone’s helpless fragility, showing the bruises on her body as well, where it seems Benno is brutalizing the entire family, making unwanted sexual advances on his stepdaughter Sanny, where her mother simply ignores Bruno’s behavior.  Tone takes this as a sign from God that he must stand up to this outrageous force of evil, believing God is testing him, where he must learn to love his enemy, even as he gets pulverized in the process.  When Benno sees Tone as a rival for the desires of his stepdaughter, he shuts him out of the family, forbidding him from having food, forcing him to pilfer through the garbage for scraps to eat, where he’s eventually caught stealing from the garbage.  Even though the meat is rotting, it’s Astrid who suddenly gets in on the game by insisting he eat an entire maggot-infested chicken while she and Benno watch, initially force feeding him until he obediently follows their demands.  The film escalates into further psychopathic behavior that Tone is humiliatingly forced to endure, throwing scraps of religious sayings in his face as they continue to torment him, where he becomes their sadistic play toy. Refusing to walk away, as he’s zealously following the fanatically passive interpretation (as opposed to a violent example where Jesus overturns tables and throws all the money lenders out of the temple) of “being like Christ,” much like the character of Prince Myshkin (also an epileptic) in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, a walking saint on earth who was considered “an idiot” by the respectable society of the times, whose endlessly naïve and compassionate outlook was constantly at odds with the dark forces of evil, moral corruption, and all-consuming earthly desires.  In Tone’s deranged eyes that means submitting to any test of barbaric humiliation, where the film takes us into wretchedly uncomfortable territory where the graphic display of monstrous human behavior seems to be Gebbe’s real interest, where the film becomes a disturbingly cruel metaphor for the evils of fascism on display, where the director meticulously documents how this slowly building process is part of the human condition.  While she only really emphasizes the raw and excruciatingly distressing surface realities, captured by the fluid handheld camera movements of Moritz Schultheiss, the rest is for the audience to consider, where one of the spectacular underlying elements of the film is the quietly haunting musical score by Peter Folk and Johannes Lehniger which only accentuates the creepy effects of something unbalanced and off kilter happening.  Not for the faint of heart.      

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