Stars: Andreas Bendig, Deborah Müller and Stephan Menzel-Gehrke
This long German short is a deceptive creature. It begins traditionally enough with a few of the usual science fiction triggers. We're not in the future, as the phones are huge and the games are 8 bit, we're in what is more like an alternate recent past, where the Cold War is still raging and bad things are happening in Germany. The power dies as the news talks of special forces raids so our lead finds his way to a bar. We wonder why we're watching him, as he's hardly magnetic. In his apartment he played a video game with a cigarette on his lip as if he doesn't know what it's for. He buys a cola at the bar as beer is illegal, even if it's on offer. He shrugs off some chick who tries to chat him up, without even looking at her. Presumably the goal is to set him up as the standard brainwashed citizen/consumer, living as he's told. His cigarettes are Eight Ball, the brand on all the billboards. His story arc matches the film. Here we watch, later we care.
|This film was an official selection at the 8th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my reviews of 2012 films.|
We're given some paranoia too. During the blackout, helicopters fly overhead and a bum tells our lead that they're after him. The bar only provides a moment or two of respite before special forces raid the place, decked out in black body armour and black balaclavas, and the place turns into a warzone as they try to find whatever it is that they're tracking. Most of the customers are armed, including the bartender, and we suddenly realise that we only spent a couple of minutes here before it turned into a big action movie. The testosterone is palpable, though if we have an action hero it's surely our blonde bartender chick. She kicks ass while our lead doesn't, making us wonder again why we're watching him. Sure, the fight choreography isn't as slick as it could be but I'm not complaining; Deborah Müller wasn't bad on the eyes even before she disposes of a trio of tough guys without too much effort. She was definitely the focus of my attention here.
All this unfolds so quickly that we have very little time to blink, let alone ponder the meaning of the picture. The feel isn't science fiction at all, the occasional low budget nods to Blade Runner notwithstanding. It feels like an action movie, albeit one whose timing suggests that it's meant to be a very eighties style action movie, presumably set in a pre-unification Germany. I started to think of the bartender like a West German Cynthia Rothrock. Yet the undertone is all science fiction, dystopian and paranoid and pessimistic, and sure enough, it soon makes itself overt. As our protagonist reaches for another cigarette, he instead pulls out of his pocket what looks like a pocket sized monolith. It glows and generates some sort of mini-black hole. The effects are solid, suggesting that while the budget is obviously low, it's far from non-existent. Both the length of the film and the ambition that soon manifests back that up. As small films go, this is a big one.
It's a film of two halves. The first half is all about expansion: building the atmosphere, tone and background. It ends with the mysterious death of our bartender in a back alley, but don't worry, she'll be back and that's no spoiler. The second half is all about contraction, as the story takes over and gradually reels in all the little throwaway moments we've seen thus far, explaining how none of them were throwaway in the slightest. It does so through a spiral approach, tightening relentlessly and with a faster and faster pace. The title, a linguistic term for self-reference, is highly appropriate because the spiral of the story is full of them and, like Pokémon, each time we think we've caught them all, another one leaps out at us. What's more, the longer the film runs, the quicker they come. The question is merely whether we figure them all out before they're explained. Given how fast it all unfolds that's not too likely. You can't catch 'em all.
I enjoyed this on a first viewing but liked it even more on a second. While it's a short that could viably be a feature, keeping it compressed to 22 minutes successfully maintains a pace that a feature probably couldn't, at least without the plot becoming a labyrinth of detail. At this length, it's straight forward enough to understand on a first viewing, though its revelations will make you want to see the film again. When you do, you'll see a lot more with the benefit of hindsight but it will still remain consistent. The writer is André Albrecht and he'd deserve most praise here even were that his only role, but he also edited, produced and directed, meaning that it's pretty much his film throughout. This is his third short film, each time handling those four roles himself (or more), but they're notably spaced out: the first in 2003 when he was 20, the second three years later. Did it really take him five years to make this film? I hope not.
His actors do their job well. This is surprisingly Deborah Müller's only credit. She feels enough at ease here for me to expect experience. Maybe she came to this from the stage, maybe she's just natural. Andreas Bendig, who plays the lead, has a few credits, including the intriguingly titled The Golden Nazi Vampire of Absam: Part II - The Secret of Kottlitz Castle. I simply have to track that one down. This appears to be by far his largest part though, and based on the second half of this film much more than the first, he should be moving on to bigger parts generally. The third notable actor is Stephan Menzel-Gehrke, older than his fellow cast member and notably wilder in his role but still effective. Nobody else lets the side down, though the budget ensures that you wouldn't mistake this for a Hollywood blockbuster. Yet I've seen worse explosions and gunshots in big budget features. For a short film, they're great, and they sit within a story that's better.