Tag Archives: German cinema

Tenderness of the Wolves

tenderness of the wolves
Tenderness of the Wolves

Format: Dual Format (Blu-Ray + DVD)

Release date: 2 November 2015

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Ulli Lommel

Writer: Kurt Raab

Original title: Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe

Cast: Kurt Raab, Jeff Roden, Margit Christensen, Ingrid Craven, Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Germany 1969

106 mins

Produced by R.W. Fassbinder, Ulli Lommel’s take on real-life serial killer Fritz Haarmann is restrained and stylised.

On paper, Tenderness of the Wolves (1973) is an unlikely project, to say the least. The film was produced by legendary German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but bears little similarity to his powerful and astutely observed social dramas; it’s certainly difficult to imagine Fassbinder tackling the story of a prolific German serial killer in one of his own films. It was obviously a very personal project for long-standing Fassbinder associate Kurt Raab, who wrote the script and starred as the vampiric, cannibalistic killer. Another Fassbinder contact took the director’s chair: Ulli Lommel, later known in cult circles as the director of the supernatural slasher flick The Boogey Man (1980).

In the wake of World War Two, Fritz Haarmann lives out a comfortable existence, thanks to a campaign of petty crime: fraud, theft, black-market racketeering. He’s a convicted homosexual with a long rap sheet (homosexuality was illegal in Germany at the time), but the overworked and understaffed police turn a blind eye to his activities because Haarmann is a valuable informant. Haarmann himself exploits his police connections by regularly ‘patrolling’ the local train station, which feeds into his secret career as a brutal serial killer who preys on young men and boys, many of them drifters who take shelter at the station. After each kill, Haarmann always has plenty of fresh meat to sell to his friends and neighbours, and give as presents to his police friends.

Despite the grim subject matter, Tenderness of the Wolves is relatively restrained. Although violent and bloody scenes do feature in the film’s final third, for much of its length it focuses on a stylized representation of Haarmann’s life and his interaction with others. While it’s clear that he is killing people, the acts are not depicted, just the initial meeting and the subsequent distribution of ‘meat’. This is not without interest, but it does rob much of the film of any tension or suspense, leaving Tenderness of the Wolves left to survive mainly on Kurt Raab’s distant, slightly otherworldly performance. Raab is consistently excellent as the shaven-headed monster, but like the film as a whole, he seems to move at a deliberate and stately pace, as if forced to figure out his every move in advance, step by step. How much enjoyment you derive from the film is largely dependent on your tolerance for its slow pacing, but Tenderness of the Wolves is not without its rewards.

Director Ulli Lommel has had a varied career, to say the least. Born into a showbusiness family, Lommel’s father was a prominent stage comedian who appeared in a number of films in the 1920s and 30s. Like his sister, Lommel took to stage early in life. In the mid-60s he formed a friendship with then-theatrical director Fassbinder. When Fassbinder began moving towards cinema, Lommel went with him, first as an actor, then as a scriptwriter and director. By the late 1970s he had moved to New York and become associated with Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, eventually directing films, including Cocaine Cowboys (1979) and Blank Generation (1980), both of which featured Warhol himself. They also brought him into contact with actress Suzanna Love, a wealthy heiress that Lommel would later marry. Lommel and Love made a series of low-budget horror films together, including The Boogey Man, psycho-thriller Olivia (1983) and witchcraft revenge story The Devonsville Terror (1983), all of which are quirky, interesting takes on standard genre frameworks. From there Lommel directed a series of increasingly dull, anonymous action flicks and TV movies. He resurfaced in the 21st century with a string of zero-budget zombie and slasher movies, most of which showed absolutely no evidence of the talent and ability that Lommel’s earlier films demonstrated.

Jim Harper

Watch the Arrow Video Story to Tenderness of the Wolves:



Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 24 November 2014

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Fritz Lang

Writers: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou

Based on the novel by: Thea von Harbou

Cast: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gerda Maurus, Willy Fritsch

Germany 1928

145 mins

Fritz Lang’s Spione starts with a bang and rarely lets up. Documents are stolen, couriers assassinated, there’s a motorcycle chase and all hell breaks lose at the Ministry of War, yelling and shouting that something must be done. The frenetic excitement of the opening minutes and much of the unflagging two and a half hours of glorious entertainment that follow suggest a conscious need to please, divert and thrill.

For Lang, the film was a return to familiar territory. Following the grandiose and financially disastrous Metropolis, the 38-year-old director found himself besieged. His studio, UFA, wanted to dump the blame for the disaster onto him and get rid of him, and there was undoubtedly the anxiety that he had lost his touch, lost his ability to pull in an audience. Harking back to his earlier work, Spione was ‘a small film, with plenty of action’ as Lang himself described it. Based on a screenplay by his wife Thea von Harbou, the story revolves around a Mabuse-like super-criminal, Haghi (played by Mabuse actor and Harbou’s former husband Rudolf Klein-Rogge). Haghi sports a Lenin beard, smokes cigarettes that must taste of brimstone and perfidy, and sits in a wheelchair in his secret lair located in an important bank.

Ranged against him are the inept and bureaucratic government agencies, who are largely played for laughs with red-faced confusion and a lot of harrumphing from Jason (Craighall Sherry), the head of the agency tasked with bringing Haghi to justice. If anything is to be done it will be thanks to the agent known only as Number 326 (Willy Fritsch). Initially a streetwise tramp, 326 quickly sheds his disguise to become a dapper gentleman, but his cover is already blown and Sonja Baranilkowa (Gerda Maurus), one of Haghi’s agents, has been sent to seduce and compromise him. However, Haghi didn’t bank on Sonja and 326 falling in love.

Lang keeps everything going at a hell of a pace and there are a number of stunning set-pieces. His universe is one of detail, and he litters the film with scraps of information, numbers and names, a puzzle to be unpicked, but the meaning of which, or even the existence of meaning, remains unclear. Haghi’s power is facilitated by the corruption of the society he seeks to destroy. Not only is its elite ripe for extortion – a wealthy society girl is blackmailed because of her opium habit, inscrutable Japanese spy Akira Masimoto (Lupu Pick) falls for a rain-sodden waif – but its institutions are inept and blustering and deskbound. Whereas Haghi has a nicely minimalist control panel and a telephone, Jason et al are buried under mounds of paperwork. Haghi himself, though, represents a paradox, one perhaps that lies at the heart of all conspiracy theories. If this master criminal is so powerful, with his massive infrastructure and his metaphorical tentacles stretching, his obvious wealth and endless resources as the director of a bank, then what does he hope to gain by all this convoluted plotting? This point is made all the weirder when he reveals that he doesn’t even need a wheelchair. Why go to the bother and discomfort of pretending to be an invalid? As William S. Burroughs might have observed, we are all controlled by our need to control.

Ultimately, Fritz Lang’s film is a thrilling entertainment, whose inventiveness is evident in every scene, almost every shot. Twists can happen on every level, from the narrative to something as simple as a location. A brutal fight in a boxing ring is revealed to be incongruously and brilliantly taking place in a nightclub. The details – a bloody hand print on a stolen document – tell a whole story, and his characters are drawn with a variety of techniques, from naturalism to heightened theatricality. As Adrian Martin notes in his brilliant essay on the film, everyone smokes in a highly individual way. Of course it is difficult to watch pre-war German cinema without glimpsing foreshadowing and prophecies for what is yet to come, but this restored and re-mastered version will now allow everyone to experience this world at its darkest and brightest.

Eureka’s Masters of Cinema dual format release of Spione comes with a 69-minute documentary on the film and a 40-page booklet including new and exclusive writing by critic Murielle Joudet and an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum.

John Bleasdale



Format: DVD + Blu-ray (Region 2/B)

Release date: 10 March 2014

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Burkhard Driest

Based on the novel: Querelle of Brest by Jean Genet

Cast: Brad Davis, Franco Nero, Jeanne Moreau

West Germany, France 1982

101 mins

When Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle was first released in cinemas in 1982, it was not received with much enthusiasm by the critics, despite its inspired imagery. Most of them thought the picture was messy; they found the plot confusing and the direction over-stylised. Nowadays, although it is still not considered a great picture, the film has managed to find its place among other cult classics.

The somewhat loose storyline follows a young, handsome sailor, Querelle (Brad Davis), as he arrives in the port of Brest, deals drugs, commits murder and has his first homosexual experiences. Adapted from Jean Genet’s novel Querelle of Brest, Fassbinder’s last film attempts a tricky balance between theatricality, striking visuals and heavy literary influences. This bold cocktail is not very well mixed, but the film should at least be applauded for its distinctive vision. Fassbinder’s brilliant and controversial idea to set the film in a fake set paid off, and it is testament to his talent as a film director that despite the stagey production design, the picture still feels extremely cinematic, thanks to the elegant and fluid camera work, and deep, vibrant colours.

The story takes place in the port of Brest during a seemingly endless (and painted) sunset. In this setting, time seems to be losing its significance. We are not sure if the story we’re watching takes place during one hour, one day, or one week, and this confusion adds to the film’s dream-like quality. This sun that never sets seems to be the film’s greatest symbol; perhaps a metaphor for ambivalence or hesitation, or an undecided state of mind. The film’s protagonist, Querelle, after all seems to be in such state of mind. Dressed in a veil of overbearing masculinity yet burning with homoerotic desires, he is the ideal representative of a world that Fassbinder seems to be mocking, although paradoxically, this dry, serious picture is bereft of humour. This world is based on a self-conscious masculinity and is heavy on pretensions.

These qualities are on full display in the scene where Querelle reunites with his brother after a long time. The two engage in a tender hug, and then, perhaps pressured by the other men’s persistent gazes, they start punching each other on the stomach. Although still not funny in any obvious way, that scene betrays Fassbinder’s bitterly sarcastic take on a ‘macho’ world that tries too hard to hide its many feminine sides. The men have to quarrel. And they have to fight. They even have to kill. But on the other hand they are allowed to have sex with each other. Not to kiss though. And they cannot fall in love with each other. For that would render them ‘fairies’ – weak, and feminine. Querelle shows the struggle of a young man to accept his homosexuality in such a world.

It is unfortunate that the film should get bogged down by its literary influences. Although Fassbinder stripped down the novel’s many and complicated storylines down to the essentials, it is still not enough. When the characters engage in endless philosophical conversations, both story and subtext become harder to follow. In addition to that, there are some confusing choices that don’t really have a clear dramatic pay-off and complicate things unsatisfactorily. The actor’s theatrical performances and the film’s deadpan serious tone and lack of humour do not help matters either.

However, Fassbinder’s bold visual choices make up for the film’s shortcomings. In perfect command of his tools, he makes inventive use of images and sounds to convey messages and emotions, even if some of the plot points and dialogue sidetrack the movie and may take the viewer out of the filmic experience. In all, Querelle might not be a great work of art, but it definitely is a distinctive one. And, in a strange way, that might be a much bigger compliment.

Special DVD/Blu-ray features include the mini-documentary Twilight of the Bodies: Fassbinder in Search of Querelle, as well as a presentation of the film by Volker Schlöndorff.

Pavlos Sifakis

Nosferatu the Vampyre

Nosferatu the Vampyre
Nosferatu the Vampyre

Format: Cinema

Release date: 1 November 2013

Distributor: BFI

Director: Werner Herzog

Writer: Werner Herzog

Cast: Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz

Original Title: Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht

Germany 1979

83 mins

The earliest extant film version of Dracula, F. W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens), starring Max Schreck as Count Orlok, ironically mirrors the Count’s own struggle to survive death. The adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel was successfully sued by the copyright holders, and every copy but one of the film was destroyed. It would be nice to think stakes were driven through the cans of celluloid. Once the copyright had expired, that one copy rose from the dead, and Murnau’s Nosferatu firmly established itself as an early classic of German Expressionism, and would haunt horror cinema everywhere.

Werner Herzog’s decision to remake the film was a typically bold, even foolhardy, one, but it is also one of the best post-war retellings of the Dracula story. Eschewing the camp and cheaply Freudian reiterations, Herzog took a grimly sympathetic approach. First of all, he firmly establishes his innocents. An uncannily beautiful Isabella Adjani plays Lucy (not Mina as in the novel) and Bruno Ganz is Jonathan Harker. They live a weirdly colourless and blurry existence of mutual adoration in Wismar. Their watery love is depicted with a walk along a mud-coloured beach in a scene that anticipates the sopping romantics of Terrence Malick’s bathetic To the Wonder. Given the job of finalising a property deal, Harker journeys to the remote mountains of Transylvania. Here, using the thrusting theme from Wagner’s Rheingold (which Malick would also borrow for The New World), Harker becomes a Caspar David Friedrich romantic who – the sea-level dweller having gained some altitude – begins to pose heroic. The sublime is almost a cleansing ceremony, a man alone in the racing clouds, but it is at exactly this point that the romantic tourist meets the resident of the mountains, and discovers the true meaning of loneliness. As Goethe would have reminded Harker, unhappy people are dangerous.

Nosferatu the Vampyre will be released in the UK as a limited edition Blu-ray SteelBook on 19 May 2014.

In his second collaboration with Herzog, Klaus Kinski gives a compellingly haunted performance. His Dracula is a creature who is as much a victim of his own condition as anyone else: a vampyre who thinks with his fingernails, while his big frightened eyes look on helpless at the damage he is compelled to commit. His remarkable ugliness, his determinedly unsexy creepiness, and his famished need make a mockery of the teenage rip ‘em up fantasies that now parade as nightmares. Kinski’s creation invades Jonathan and Lucy’s hometown, bringing with him disease, rats and death, a Pied Piper in reverse. As with many Kinski/Herzog films, the latter half slides towards disaster with the unstoppable force of a bad dream, but, as like with other great horror films (and I’d include The Shining in this category), the film is not really frightening as such. Nothing goes bang in the night. Rather there is a continuous unsettling drone screech of everything going wrong all the way through.

John Bleasdale

Watch the original trailer:

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt

Format: Cinema

Release date: 27 September 2013

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Margarethe von Trotta

Writers: Margarethe von Trotta, Pam Katz

Cast: Barbara Sukowa, Janet McTeer, Klaus Pohl, Julia Jentsch, Ulrich Noethen, Axel Milberg

Germany, Luxembourg, France 2012

113 mins

Margarethe von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt is not a documentary, but a dramatisation of the best-known episode in the life of the German-American political theorist. In 1961, while she was a professor at the New School in New York, Arendt went to Jerusalem to report, for the New Yorker, on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, following his abduction from Argentina by Mossad. Wary of the judicial process, suspicious of the Israeli government, Arendt refused to prejudge Eichmann. And perhaps she allowed herself to take her contrariety too far.

First, she seemed to go too far towards exculpation of Eichmann, in order to put across her big idea about the banality of evil. We have now all become used to this idea as part of the landscape of cruelty and suffering: in the modern world monstrous things are not usually done by monsters, but by ordinary people. But the dramatic crux of the film is Arendt’s even more controversial criticism of Jewish leaders under Nazi rule, which she took far enough to look like blame.

So she blamed her fellow Jews and exculpated the Nazi – er, maybe you’ve overthought that one a bit, Professor Arendt? Was this stubborn devotion to truth, or was she carried away with her own ideas?

There are some flashbacks to her youthful engagement (philosophical and physical) with Heidegger, the Nazi-in-waiting, and some other mildly awkward episodes in her personal life. Dialogue is spoken in the actual languages supposed to have been used by the people portrayed: mainly German, with interludes in English, while archive film is incorporated, surprisingly smoothly. This portrait of an intellectual woman is handled more calmly and seriously by von Trotta than one can imagine it would be by a British filmmaker. Glamourisation, conjecture, pathos, symbolism, and messages are eschewed.

Arendt is let off lightly, but I guess it’s tempting to side with her when the alternative might look like siding with the Israeli government and the people who tried to hound her out of her job. Not really an edifying episode in intellectual history, but an interesting story told with appropriate restraint.

Peter Momtchiloff

Watch the trailer:

The Golem

The Golem

Format: Cinema

Screening date: 28 November 2012

With live piano duet accompaniment by Robin Harris and Laura Anstee

Venue: Barbican

Directors: Cark Boese, Paul Wegener

Writers: Henrik Galeen, Paul Wegener

Original title: Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam

Cast: Paul Wegener, Albert Steinrück, Ernst Deutsch

Germany 1920

85 mins

Despite the best efforts of writer, actor and director Paul Wegener, the Golem has never quite achieved the status it deserves, lagging behind the vampires (F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, 1922), insane scientists (Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, 1920) and disfigured fiends (Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera, 1925) that occupy the ‘first tier’ of silent movie monsters. Inspired equally by Hebrew mythology and 19th-century literature, Wegener’s 1920 classic Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (‘The Golem, and how he came into the world’), is the last of three Golem films he starred in, and the only one to survive. Like many of the iconic films of silent cinema, Der Golem has appeared in a variety of running times and print qualities, but restored and remastered versions are readily available.

Der Golem begins in 16th-century Prague, in the Jewish ghetto, where the Rabbi Loew foretells disaster for the Jewish people. Sure enough, the emperor announces that the Jews are to be driven from their homes. In order to protect his people the Rabbi creates the Golem, a stone being reanimated by the demon Astaroth. The Rabbi takes the Golem to the imperial court, where the assembled company are suitably impressed. After the creature prevents the palace roof from falling on their heads, the emperor agrees to let the Jews remain in their homes. Unfortunately the Golem is later possessed by Astaroth, who allows it to rampage through the streets of Prague, burning and destroying.

Although he co-directed Der Golem with Carl Boese, Wegener’s most important contribution to the film is his performance as the Golem itself. Despite portraying a creature made of stone, he manages to create a surprising level of emotional expression, primarily through his eyes. A victim of man’s weaknesses, the Golem is the archetype for all subsequent tragic creatures, most obviously Boris Karloff’s monster in James Whale’s classic Frankenstein (1931). After Wegener’s Golem, architect Hans Poelzig’s set design is the star of the film; his portrayal of the sprawling Prague ghetto is nothing short of incredible. A riot of lopsided angles and bizarre shapes, it’s one of the finest cinematic cityscapes ever created.

Like a great deal of Der Golem, Poelzig’s designs have been tremendously influential. Edgar G. Ulmer’s surreal horror-noir The Black Cat (1934) appropriated both the architect’s images and his name for Boris Karloff’s satanic villain, Hjalmar Poelzig. It has sometimes been claimed that Ulmer worked on Der Golem – often by the man himself – either as a set builder under Poelzig or as a cameraman under visionary cinematographer Karl Freund, but corroboration for such assertions is scant. Already one of the most sought-after cinematographers in Europe, Freund would later work on Fritz Lang’s science-fiction masterpiece Metropolis (1927), as well as several of F.W. Murnau’s greatest films. After moving to Hollywood in 1929 Freund shot Tod Browning’s genre classic Dracula (1931), before directing The Mummy (1932), a sombre mood piece that has much in common with Wegener and Boese’s Der Golem.

Periodically, news surfaces of a possible remake of the story of the Golem – Italian special effects maestro Sergio Stivaletti has often said he would love to direct a new version – but so far nothing has become of such rumours.

This screening is part of the Step into the Dark season of films exploring dystopia, the sublime and the surreal at the Barbican throughout November.

Jim Harper

The Silence

The Silence

Format: Cinema

Release date: 28 October 2011

Venues: UK wide

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Baran bo Odar

Writers: Baran bo Odar, Alex Ross, Richard Shakocius

Based on the novel by: Jan Costin Wagner

Original title: Das letze Schweigen

Cast:Ulrich Thomsen, Wotan Wilke Möhring, Katrin Sa&#223, Burghart Klau&#223ner, Sebastian Blomberg

Germany 2010

118 mins

When a young girl is murdered in circumstances identical to a crime that took place two decades previously, the police rush to investigate. Gradually we see, through flashbacks, how a friendship between two men led to the first killing. This debut film from director Baran bo Odar expands the form of the police procedural, granting moments of pathos to all characters concerned, telling their stories, while never straying too far from the film’s roots in the thriller genre.

Rather than go for the easy Gothic feel of a wintry murder story set in Mitteleuropa (dark red stains tainting driven snow) the film is set during a heatwave. The simmering temperature is palpable, creating a clammy, fractious tension that befits the film’s subject matter. The Silence puts one in the uncomfortable position of almost rooting for Timo, the sweaty-palmed accomplice to the crime, yet this is not a provocation, but comes from the film’s insistence on the humanity of all the characters. A perverse sense of dramatic irony descends in the film’s second half, as Timo attempts to apologise covertly to the victim’s mother for his part in the crime. Another chilling moment shows two child murderers standing in an awkwardly held medium shot, as a young boy overhears them and innocently asks if he can join them in watching a film.

Actors’ past roles bring a ghostly presence to their current ones, and there is an awkward pathos in seeing the abuse victim from Festen (1998) turned abuser. In his current guise, Ulrich Thomsen resembles a kind of haggard, Nordic Colin Firth. He portrays the killer as an inadequate, rather than a cackling, serial killer, although we understand he is part of something even more disturbing than what we see on screen. The police characters are fully rounded too. The inclusion of a pregnant detective has been called a Fargo reference but, in fact, the actress signed up for the role before becoming aware of her condition. In a film about the impact of lives being snatched away, the inclusion of a life not yet lived adds a thematic counterweight. The film’s most intriguing performance, though, is Claudia Michelsen’s. Her presence is a distinct mixture of elegance and burned-out discomfort well-suited to her role as the wife of the weak-willed accomplice.

There are some signs that this is a debut feature. The score is too conventional for such an intense story, coming across as generic ‘murder mystery’ music at times. The scene in which several characters are cross-cut as they find out about the copycat murder would be more effective were it not marred by dissonant industrial noise swelling on the soundtrack. Shots of the murdered girl’s stuffed toys and paintings seem like too obvious a tug at the heartstrings. Ultimately though, this is a confidently paced film with a taut script that allows characterisation to develop with the performances rather than the dialogue. The Silence presents no convenient resolution and offers no easy answers.

John A. Riley