DIRECTED BY: Jörg Buttgereit
FEATURING: Daktari Lorenz, Beatrice M.
PLOT: A necrophiliac who works for a corpse disposal service loses his job, his perverted girlfriend, and finally his mind.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although Nekromantik is indisputably weird—not simply in its bizarre concept, but in its numerous nightmare digressions from linearity—it can’t be recommended as a viewing experience. It’s a badly made, tedious parade of revolting and nihilistic imagery with no ambition other than to shock the viewer. When the film does utilize weirdness, it does so shallowly and irreverently, solely in service of its intent to disturb.
COMMENTS: Like sex, inherently shocking imagery in film can be used well, to explore the human experience, or (more commonly) it can be used badly and exploitatively. The ironic celebration of evil in A Clockwork Orange disturbs the viewer deeply, but the purpose of the film isn’t to shock us; it’s to provoke us into thinking more deeply about the problem of evil by forcefully confronting us with the paradox of free will.
Too many artists, however, have noticed that offending huge numbers of people is a far easier way to draw attention to themselves than working hard at their craft and creating something thoughtful and meaningful. Sometimes, artists get confused and adopt a simple logical fallacy: much great art, like Nabokov’s “Lolita” or Buñuel‘s Un Chien Andalou, has shocked and offended large numbers of people; therefore, the purpose of great art must be to shock people. (This artistic disorder is commonly known as “John Waters Syndrome”). Most shocking art, however, is made with a more cynical hand, made with the artistic integrity of a freakshow proprietor. This is the category into which Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik falls.
Un Chien Andalou opens with a shot of a woman’s eyeball being slit by a straight razor, juxtaposed with a shot of a cloud passing in front of the moon. The image is shocking but artistic, suggestive and numinous. Nekromantik opens with a shot of panties dropping and urine streaming onto the grass; the image is banal, and, besides breaking an excretory taboo, boring. With this shot Buttgereit announces that Nekromantik means to treat us to a glimpse of the forbidden, but foreshadows that the visions will be thoughtless and done for novelty’s sake, with no aesthetic intention. If we watch on, we will get to see fresh corpses sliced in half in an auto accident; our hero taking a leak in urinal; organs in formaldehyde; a woman bathing in bloody water; the (real) execution and skinning of a bunny rabbit; a badly filmed non-sequitur sequence involving an accidental shooting; the “famous” lovemaking scene with a corpse; eyeball sucking; the (fake) murder of a kitty cat; a sleazy stalking, rape and breast-slitting scene from a film-within-the-film; the moon changing into a skull; a hallucination sequence where our hero and a dream girl toss a severed head back in forth on a hill; a sloppily conceived and executed prostitute murder; a man having his head sliced in half from a single shovel blow; and the grand finale, in which the hero ejaculates from a fake penis as he disembowels himself with a knife. It’s a laundry list of freakishness many people can’t resist peeking at, but few will be happy with what they see if they do, any more than the people who couldn’t resist the temptation to sneak a peek at Joey the dog-faced boy in a seedy carnival tent felt better for having slated their curiosity.
On a technical level, Nekromantik is bottom of the barrel grindhouse cinema. There’s only a shred of a plot, no attempt at characterization, poor acting, and rudimentary Super-8 cinematography. Without the shock scenes, it would be a D-minus student film project; add scenes of a carnal frolic with a dead body, and it becomes a legendary, sought after cult classic.
Because there are no real human characters in it, Nekromantik, while shocking and offensive, lacks the power to truly disturb. Necrophilia is simply depicted; it’s not explored. We have no more clue than the director does why someone would want to make love to a corpse. When characters with no character engage in repulsive activities with no explanation or motivation, there’s nothing to be disturbed by; it’s just a game of suppressing our moral gag reflex.
Nekromantik is not entirely worthless, although the few treats to be found here can’t compensate for the misanthropic feeling you get from watching peoples’ worst instincts pandered to for over an hour. The music is actually quite well matched to the imagery; it’s abrasively maddening during the animal skinning sequence, then ironically romantic during the threesome with the corpse. There is also some humor to be found, such as the absurdity of our hero’s girlfriend leaving him because he’s a loser who can’t keep his corpse disposal job (you mean, she thinks she can find a necrophiliac who’s got his shit together to shack up with?), and the scene where the couple carefully places a prophylactic on the pipe they’ve added to a corpse to substitute for his presumably rotted member. It’s often difficult to tell whether these bits of humor are intentional or unintentional. Given the depressed, incompetent and nihilistic tone of the film, it’s a stretch to conclude that the final sequence, with its ridiculous, improbably spurting phallus, was intended as anything more than a desperate attempt to top the shocks that had come before. But the effect is so badly done, and the “horror” so grossly oversold, that it’s hard to imagine anyone not laughing out loud at it; it’s almost like another, more clever filmmaker parodying Buttgereit’s excessive style.
There have been some attempts to defend Nekromantik as art, and to insist that it has a meaningful theme beyond the cynical desire to shock, but I remain unconvinced. Despite a few badly botched attempts at film school artiness, Nekromantik has far more in common with Cannibal Holocaust than it does with Salo.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Buttgereit is a director who engages creatively with that strand of Romantic irrationalism that has lain at the heart of German culture since long before the nation’s first unification in the 1870s… Existing somewhere between the nightmare world of the ghost train, the crazy logic of dreams and the representational strategies of avant-garde or experimental cinema, Buttgereit’s films joyfully participate in this irrationality— especially through the frequent inclusion of lengthy or repeated sequences of highly perplexing viscerality.”–Linnie Blake, Kinoeye: New Perspectives on European Film, Vol. 3, Iss. 6 (2003)