Concealing pathos and sensuality beneath the scarlet letter of exploitation, Jörg Buttgereit leavens the geek-show morbidity of Nekromantik’s subject matter with passion and puerile humor, likening the clash between his sanguine sensibilities and wide-eyed romanticism to the domestic tumult of his grave-robbing leads. By transmogrifying necrophilia and depravity into sitcom-style quirks, Buttgereit pillories European prudishness and its accusations of “systematic desensitization,” allowing the farcicality of his theme and grisliness of its realization to both epitomize their worst fears and lampoon the genre’s barbarity.
Bringing the burden of his forensic cleanup job back to the homestead, Rob (Daktari Lorenz) pilfers discarded human remains from crime scenes, preserving organs and digits in jars of formaldehyde and venerating them as sacred trophies. Though his passion for decomposition is certainly exacerbated by his career, the psychological impact stems directly from childhood trauma, excerpts of which are revealed through hazily-shot memories of animal processing and musings of a coroner’s autopsy. Buttgereit conveniently crosscuts these grotesque visions to parallel the serial killer’s journey from acts like leporicide to homicide, metaphorically condemning experience over artistic transgression as the root cause of spiritual torpor.
Rob and his liebling’s (Beatrice M.) personal evolution from nihilists to necrophiles stems from the acquisition of a water-logged cadaver and resourceful application of a lead pipe. Their polyamorous act of desecration is filmed with the aplomb of actual erotica, importing a perplexing delicacy to viscous heavy petting, each gesticulation conjuring a euphoric reverberation through optical printing and slackened speed. Emphasis on safe sex and the use of gentle piano as accompaniment repurpose an odious endeavor into risible spoof, taking on-screen intimacy to its extreme, both as an affront to hackneyed filmmaking and the safety of cinematic voyeurism.
This frankness can be taxing, particularly in its cruelty to animals, but Buttgereit’s sole purpose isn’t to repulse, rather, he utilizes brutality to expose the financial and venereal insecurities shared by his characters and ignored by reputable German artists. When Rob gets laid-off and his sweetheart leaves for greener pocketbooks and fresher corpses, he retreats to the darkened pews of a picture house, seeking solace from the sepulchral walls of his efficiency apartment. Though his carnal appetite can’t be satiated by the cheapjack viscera on screen, his peers in the audience respond emphatically to a slasher film’s sexualized violence, each howl of amusement and swill of beer acting as a budget catharsis for the paycheck-to-paycheck crowd.
Despite this working-class sentiment, Jörg Buttgereit’s patient, lingering portraiture are far more artful and evocative than those of his kindred spirits, anointing blood and organs as erotic elixirs, equal to champagne and strawberries upon the altar of dime-store romance. Even passages of excess, explicitly a graveyard rape scene and the inevitable climax, speak the language of ornate, Gothic horror, employing the mystique of billowing fog and crimson fluid to affix this work of iniquity to the genre’s storied tradition. Dragging technique, history, and subtext into the sewer is an admirable feat, but Buttgereit’s grandest lark harkens back to the New Testament, manifesting a Christ figure (replete with crown of thorns) from a forlorn degenerate and exalting the dating game and its concomitant fetishes to a contemporary passion play.
Nekromantik (Buttgereit/Jelinski, 1987)
Directed by Jörg Buttgereit
Written by Jörg Buttgereit and Franz Rodenkirchen
Photographed by Uwe Bohrer
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