“I hate directors who take themselves very seriously. I think this is ridiculous.” The enfant terrible of German arthouse cinema, the writer/director Jörg Buttgereit is softly spoken and personable in an onstage interview conducted by Arrow’s Ewan Cant this year at the Offscreen Film Festival, an incongruous contrast to the notorious films with which he made his name.
1987’s Nekromantik, 1990’s short story anthology Der Todesking and 1991’s Nekromantik 2 all having received prestige releases by Arrow Films, they now turn their attention to his fourth feature, 1993’s Schramm, sometimes given the subtitle Into the Mind of a Serial Killer.
Perhaps predictably, any insight into the personal psychoses of taxi driver Lothar Schramm (punk musician Florian Koerner von Gustorf) is unlikely to be enlightening or comforting; a loner with obsessive compulsions of radical self-harm, does he act out his violent fantasies on strangers, the religious evangelists who knock at his door one night, to protect himself?
His unspoken affection for his neighbour Marianne (Nekromantik 2‘s Monika M) undeniable, she is apparently oblivious to his twisted desire or the outlets for his frustration, asking him to drive her to an engagement for a group of wealthy elder gentlemen of specific requirements and wait outside, later thanking him by taking him to dinner and paying with the money she has earned.
The divide between his public and private lives exposed and examined by Buttgereit, Schramm kills his victims with knife and hammer then arranges them, naked and atop each other, coated in blood, then calmly repaints his living room where the blood has splattered, yet beyond the walls of his humble apartment he is unremarkable, nondescript.
Buttgereit’s most explicit and experimental film, a man whose fantasies fixate on movement and connection but who consciously isolates himself and remains motionless, trying to peer inside his own mind and literally nailing himself to a chair at one point, it is a disorienting and disjointed journey of eroticism and mutilation, but although it is not as transgressive as Nekromantik this does not make it an easy watch.
Typically, Buttgereit presents without judgement: the “lipstick killer” Schramm is in an odd way the protector of Marianne, and without him it is implied that her return engagement to the men who dressed her as a gender-swapped Hitler Youth volunteer pushes beyond her agreed boundaries; he betrayed the trust between them, but they both pay the price.
With short films by Buttgereit, a recent onstage interview, commentaries, an archive “making of” which demonstrates how much effort was expended despite the minimal resources and other supporting material on the disc, the most interesting is the “sequel” to Shramm by Robert Morgan, Tomorrow I Will Be Dirt, no less disturbing than the feature for being stop-motion animation, possibly more ominous for concentrating the images of the film into an accelerated timeframe.