Germany. Directed by Till Kleinert, 2014. Starring Michel Diercks, Pit Bukowski, Uwe Preuss. 79 minutes. In German, with English subtitles.
If your experience with genre cinema has been too safe, staid, straightforward, and just plain normal recently, I’d like to introduce you to Till Kleinert, the first-time writer/director of Der Samurai. Prepare to meet your new bizarro German Jesus.
The plot is weird enough. Michel Diercks plays Jakob, a nebbishy young policeman whom nobody seems to take seriously. But when der titular samurai, a cross-dressing, katana-wielding maniac who might or might not also be a werewolf (Pit Bukowski) comes to town with a mad gleam in his eye and an urge to do his “Connor MacLeod on speed” routine, Germany’s answer to Barney Fife might be the only one who can bring the madman’s path of destruction to a halt.
But Der Samurai’s true strangeness comes in its thematic elements. The apparently symbiotic relationship between Jakob–a guy so repressed he makes Edward Woodward’s character in The Wicker Man look like Lady goddamn Gaga–and the “free and wild” (to quote Lovecraft) “samurai” suggests many metaphors and interpretations over the course of the film, not all of them mutually exclusive. Why does Jakob occasionally behave out-of-character? Is the Samurai even real? What connects either character with the wolf who menaces at town at night, for whom Jakob leaves bags of raw meat in the hope of sating its bestial, primal hunger?
Your guess is as good as mine. Kleiner provides a possible hint in his description of his film as “a queer thriller,” but he clearly wants the audience to make up its own mind. Each viewer might have a radically different idea of what Der Samurai is really “about.” Or they might just take everything at face value, sit back and enjoy the weirdness and violence. I’m not always the best with symbols or metaphors unless I’ve lived with a film for a few years, so that’s the route I took. At any rate, Der Samurai has the potential to inspire one hell of a variation on Room 237.
Moving on to the more concrete aspects of the production, Kleinert’s visual aesthetic very much impressed me–capturing perfectly the spooky, middle-of-nowhere feel that small rural towns often have in the wee hours of the night. Conrad Oleak’s haunting score adds to the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the front half of the film does seem a bit overloaded with forest chases that drag on a bit too long.
Bukowski can’t help but steal the film with his antics as the title character, a larger-than-life figure with a boner to match. Those who like their psychosis with a side order of raving and drooling will love the samurai to bits. Jakob is significantly less interesting, but that’s the entire point of his character. Diercks pushes his repression very close to the line where the character stops being relatable, but never crosses it.
Der Samurai is obtuse and obscure but never, ever dull. There’s an audience out there waiting for it, to grab the film with its grubby little fingers and claim it as its own. If this is the sort of thing you dig, put it towards the top of your watch-list.