Director : Jorg Buttgereit
Stars : Susanne Betz, Gerd Breitung, Ingo Buesing
Seven episodes, each taking place on a different day of the week, on the theme of suicide and violent death.
Right from the offset, “Der Todesking” makes it’s intentions known. A naked dead body floats down the screen as the opening titles are displayed, and as the harsh violin of the theme song plays we hear screams of pain mixed throughout. The two main things to take from the opening is this film is going to be both artistic and disturbing. Good times.
Of course, if you’ve ever seen a Jorg Buttgereit film before you know what to expect, with his previous works, especially “Nekromantik” and “Hot Love”, revolving around grotesquely dark themes, particularly death and necrophilia, but always remaining artistic and at times shockingly beautiful.
I first heard about this film when I saw the trailer before seeing the slightly disappointing “Nekromantik 2”. From that moment I did my best to seek it out and a few years later managed to get my hands on a copy. So after a long period of anticipation was the search worth it? Of course it was, the maker of “Nekromantik” was never going to let me down even if it’s sequel was a touch boring (the ending paid off however), and I believe Der Todesking to be his finest effort.
So what do I get out of an average Buttgereit film? Well the themes are certainly extreme and I’ve always been a fan of cinema that will go maybe that little bit too far. Most people like to watch films for escapism, whether it’s to see cities blown to smithereens or people battling aliens in space. For me escapism comes most gratifyingly in the form of the extreme. I’m probably never going to chop a person up or sleep with a corpse in my lifetime (I don’t fancy it), so I like to watch it via the comfort of my sofa (it’s much less messy).
“Der Todesking” seems to come right at the height of Buttgereit’s film making career, slightly after “Nekromantik” and before his impressive serial killer flick, “Schramm”, and is a most depressing anthology involving seven different stories set at different days of the week, and between each story we get to see “Dead Naked Guy” decompose more and more. This is a much more serious film than his others however, there’s certainly no corpse coitus here. It’s a very poetic and thought provoking film that sometimes shocks for the sake of it, but mostly remains outside the bounds of exploitation.
My favourite part is the first, “Monday”, although my VHS copy missed most of the subtitles from the one piece of dialogue involved. It stars Hermann Kopp (who performs most of the soundtrack for this and many other Buttgereit films) as a suicidal man that quits his job and takes his life in the bath. That’s it really but there is one segment that highlights the genius of Buttgereit as a film maker. A well planned one take sequence that gives the illusion of time passing as the camera revolves at the centre of the room and Kopp goes about his day preparing for what lies ahead. Maybe this could have been executed better as a few shadows show Kopp behind the camera rushing to get to his next position, but the change of clothing and the poster disappearing are very nice touches. The music played during this is called “Poison” by Kopp himself and works as a kind of nice music video for it. Great tune.
So a quick summary of the rest of the film. “Tuesday” is about a guy who visits a video shop (look out for the “Nekromantik” poster and tape) and decides that Nazi exploitation is the order of the day. This is one for the gore hounds as Buttgereit himself plays a victim of castration and the ending is quite brilliant. “Wednesday” shows a man telling a lady (Betz) about his relationship problems on a park bench in the rain, which gets out of hand. At first I didn’t understand what “Thursday” was about as it shows a bridge and a list of names. I soon realised that the names are those of people that had committed suicide by jumping from the bridge. “Friday” involves a woman receiving a mysterious chain letter demanding she takes her own life. “Saturday” is a short found footage film of a women going on a killing spree in an attempt to perform an “amok suicide” and in “Sunday” we see the last minutes in the life of a very mentally ill man.
Obviously this film isn’t for everyone. The suicide theme is depressing and disturbing enough but when you add a pinch of murder and mutilation it’s quite a chore to sit through. But I can’t express just how well done it is. There’s no sentimentality, these people are lonely and terminally unhappy, and you get that sense from every scene. Buttgereit is the master of making the most controversial subject seem almost tasteful through his artistic method of showing us a story. Der Todesking is not a film that will bring you hope or entertainment, but if prepared to sit through some uncomfortable scenes, you will experience a beautiful and poignant film.
Don’t watch the trailer if you’re squeamish!!