Der Samurai (2014)
Dir: Till Kleinert
Written by: Till Kleinert
Starring: Michel Diercks, Pit Bukowski, Uwe Preuss, Kaja Blanchnik, Christopher Kane
Running Time – 80 mins.
UK Première: Frightfest 2014
Small town policeman, Jakob (Diercks), is dealing with a wolf terrorising the town when he receives a mysterious package. When he goes to deliver it, he discovers a man wearing a white dress and lipstick, hiding in an abandoned house. The package contains a samurai sword and Jakob soon finds himself in a disturbing battle of wits against The Samurai (Bukowski).
With the striking image of a man dressed in a wedding dress and brandishing a samurai sword on its poster, Der Samurai instantly has your attention as to just what on earth such a film could be like or even about. To go into any great detail regarding the plot would be equivalent to revealing the method of a magic trick, director, Till Kleinert, has created something truly unique and very special here. If ever there was a film that needs to be experienced rather than just seen, it’s Der Samurai.
The action all takes place of the course of one night in real time and it is astounding just how much ground is covered of varying subjects and ideas throughout. Embracing a Brothers Grimm style, this twisted fairytale can be said to embody a perfect representation of discipline fighting against chaos as well as the Cherokee legend of the two warring wolves that lie inside every man. To be blunt, the film is evocative of David Lynch if he had directed The Dark Knight.
Kleinert has stated that he took experience from passing sleepy European towns on the train and wondering what mysteries they concealed. The sense of a compact small town creates a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere, everyone seems to know everyone and their business and anything that breaks away from the normality of their existence is regarded with deep suspicion and disdain. This is where the homoerotic subtext to the film really comes to the fore in terms of getting a better understanding of the lead character in Jakob and how he is regarded by the townspeople.
Diercks plays Jakob fantastically as a mild-mannered and fundamentally good guy, caring for his dementia-suffering grandmother, who finds himself repressed, isolated and frustrated at the small town rigid mindset shared by seemingly all except him. From his interactions with the other townspeople, it is evident that he is marginalised for being different and not fitting in with their behaviour. This is slowly revealed to be as a result of his unsure sexuality which is only truly brought out of him come the arrival of the Samurai, his polar opposite of character. It is fascinating and so well captured in his performance that the audience sees Jakob desperately attempting to upholding the law and order but is constantly dropping his guard to the Samurai’s magnetism. He is so enticed by the excitement of the danger of the unknown and the break from convention that the Samurai represents to him. He is given so many chances to stop the Samurai and yet he doesn’t. The film is almost capturing his proper awakening into deciding on what sort of person he really is which is both haunting and unshakably engaging.
Kleinert is so expert at showing and not telling with his characters. A great deal of character development and history is done solely through allusion and subtext. Certain tweaks in the character’s behaviour or even simple surrounding objects are given huge significance to delving a little deeper into a film that has so much rich intrigue beneath the surface.
To perfectly counter-balance Diercks more restrained performance, Bukowski’s nameless Samurai is a limitless battery of danger and unpredictability. He is never once given any back story and no logic is ever really given to his actions, he is pure and simply a bold agent of chaos set to shake the foundations of the sleepy town to its core. When the camera zooms in on his menacing features, it is often difficult to not look away in simple intimidation at how powerful and threatening a force of nature his character is. Not once do the audience ever feel safe in his presence and yet, much like Jakob, it is impossible to not be drawn into his frightening erotic dynamism. Perhaps the greatest facet of Bukowski’s performance, is the fact that is able to make the initially risible image of a man in a wedding dress and makeup holding a samurai sword so terrifying with his wolf-like predatory instinct.
The visual presentation of the film is nothing short of breathtaking. The camera has a beautiful haze-like quality and liberally uses harsh red lighting that further presses the idea home that this is all somehow magical and possibly, isn’t real. Amongst the film’s many stand-out sequences include a brutal bloodshed viewed from a fascinatingly bizarre upside-down angle, a hugely Twin Peaks-eqsue club scene and a gorgeous shot of the police car headlights. The lights are barely visible through an impenetrable mist and surrounded by the dense forest that hides so many secrets and mysteries.
There are images that are forever burnt onto the retinas of those who see the film and the impact endures. The iconic image of the Samurai himself is matched with a beautiful near final shot of blood splattering combined with fireworks, the twisted grin of the Samurai as a post-credits extra and the hypnotic and surreal dance the leads perform by a bonfire surrounded by corpses. The violence is often highly extreme and yet pulled off with astounding grace and flair without ever showing off.
An intoxicating, darkly erotic nightmare with two incredible lead performances that balance out as a perfect ying/yang partnership. Pure European Marmite cinema that’s certain to leave many completely cold whilst others are utterly enraptured and haunted by it.