Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Devil of Kreuzberg

Director: Alexander Bakshaev
Writer: Pippo Schund
Producers: Alexander Bakshaev, Mathis Vogel
Cast: Ross Indecency, Sandra Bourdonnec, Tomas Veit
Country: Germany
Year of release: 2015
Reviewed from: online screener

The Devil of Kreuzberg is what we used to call – and I guess still do – Eurosleaze. It’s very sleazy, and very European. It channels the spirits of Jean Rollin (whom I once had the pleasure of interviewing on stage) and Jesus Franco (who I never met). Scenes filmed guerrilla-style on the streets of Hamburg among lapdancing clubs, sex shops and gay porn cinemas almost look like they have been edited from something shot in the 1970s. These things, these places, they don’t still exist, do they?

Apparently they do.

Although it starts off rather confusingly, introducing us to several different characters, only some of whom will become relevant, after a bit this sub-feature length film settles down to a relatively straightforward plot.

Jakob (Ross Indecency) is a thin, rather fey German writer with a mixed-race girlfriend, Linda (French actress/singer Sandra Bourdonnec). But he’s getting tired of her so asks his dour, East Mediterranean best friend Kurt (Tomas Veit) to kill her, which isn’t unreasonable as Kurt is a professional hitman. But Linda has been convening with the spirit of her late grandmother (a graveyard voice which may be genuinely supernatural or may be in Linda’s head) who tells Linda that she is destined to kill her lover, just as previous generations of her family have done. Her surname name is revealed to be Karnstein but whether that’s meant to imply she's a vampire or whether it’s just a Hammer homage is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

The finer details of the plot are more obtuse, but enjoyably so rather than frustratingly so. There’s a paucity of dialogue as Bakshaev tells us the story through actions and looks as much as spoken words (which are mostly German, occasionally English or French; subtitles are good and clear). Halfway through, Kurt and Jakob get up and dance to some 1980s-style synth-pop. It’s not just an interlude: it tells us about these characters, their attitudes and their relationship. The soundtrack mixes these sub-Kraftwerk keyboard noodlings with freeform jazz and spoken word samples. Like the film as a whole, it’s arty and artistic without being artsy or arse.

It takes a while to get used to the somewhat mannered acting but part of that is just the studied pretension of some of the characters. Veit is particularly good as hit-man Kurt, never betraying a hint of emotion through his face or voice yet still letting us see inside the character.

The IMDB reckons this runs 65 minutes. The online screener I was sent ran 42 and, while it didn’t have any opening titles, I doubt if they were 23 minutes long. Whether this would be better, less good or just different at that longer running time I couldn’t say. I certainly wouldn’t want to watch it for two hours, but it could probably work at just over an hour.

Russia-born Alexander Bakshaev has for several years now been an associate of Jason Impey, on both sides of the camera. He was in Jason’s feature Tortured and a number of shorts which have been subsequently combined into lash-up features. Impey starred as ‘obsessed film-maker’ George Eastman (hoho!) in Bakshaev’s 2008 sub-feature The Trip and was also in his 2009 short Bittersweet.

The Devil of Kreuzberg was mostly shot in Berlin (Hamburg sex shops notwithstanding) over 16 days for about 3,000 euros. Thomas Lee Rutter (director of Full Moon Massacre, Mr Blades etc, who receives a ‘thank you’ in the credits) gave the film a CD-R release in October 2015, including a Making Of and Bakshaev’s 2012 short Zartlichkeit.

Gritty, grimy, provocative and thought-provoking, The Devil of Kreuzberg is a toe dipped into the seedy underbelly of a world you wouldn’t want to visit except through a screen. In that sense, it’s pure, classic Eurosleaze. Bravo!

MJS rating: B+

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