Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2014 4:39 pm 
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A horrific incident

The 30-year-old Katrin Gebbe is a German director whose first film is grueling, disturbing, punishing, and misguided, but also undeniably promising. Based on a true incident, it depicts the sad young life of Tore (Julius Feldmeier), a bleach-blond teenage waif who may have been abandoned by his family, joins a Christian cult, takes up with a disreputable family, and is horribly abused. His expression is sometimes beautific and joyous, sometimes disappointed and sad. When we find him, he is already a member of the Jesus Freaks, an actual German group of Christian youths in Hamburg who live in a kind of commune and stage raves where they jump and shout to punk music in praise of the Lord. Tore's baptism out in a river is one of his joyous moments. He encounters a man whose truck won't start, joins hands with some fellow Freaks and prays to Jesus to make it run. It starts! Thus Tore meets Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak), whom he tells about their dances. Later Benno rescues Tore at a rave when he collapses in an epileptic fit, and brings him home.

Tore may be starved for any family life, so he stays on with Benno at his summer place, sleeping in a tent in the yard behind the small allotment he shares with his wife Astrid (Annika Kuhl) and her 15-year-old tomboy daughter Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof) and little son Dennis (Til Niklas Theinert). But not very far beneath the surface, things chez Benno aren't so nice. Benno persistently mocks Tore's Christianity and is seriously inappropriate in his behavior toward Sanny. Tore will run away and come back to Benno's family, but it will hold him and come to seem to him the test God has meant for him. Apparently it is also to be the test Katrin Gebbe means for us, the hapless viewers.

Life with Benno stops being wonderful for Tore when Benno inexplicably strikes him hard in the face during a birthday party for Sanny. He flees to the Freaks, but is shocked to find his best friend Eule (Daniel Michel) in flagrante with a girl --"Freaks don't have sex before marriage" is one of the youth's watchwords -- and so he runs back to Benno's famiy.

The first truly horrific event comes when Tore is caught stealing some food from the garbage and now Astrid joins in the punishment as she and Benno force the boy to eat a whole rotten chicken. The food poinsoning sends him to the hospital. Sanny calls an ambulance from a neutral location and begs Tore not to say where he is coming from and not ever to come back. And yet, after he recovers, fresh as a daisy, he goes back. It only gets worse. The moments of horror are not so many, but gruesome and disturbing enough to show that Tore has become a sheer object of torture, while Sanny is plotting escape from this hell house with her little brother.

In his judicious and accurate Cannes review for Variety Scott Foundas described Tore as "projecting a slightly spacey, otherworldly quality that makes him seem like Candide on the cusp of Dante’s inferno." Whatever subtlety and complexity the film has comes from Julius Feldmeier in the role of Tore. He is not only striking and etherial, almost luminous, but projects a naive purity of faith so convincing one believes the actor really must himself come from the Jesus Freaks. This film is divided into three cruelly ironic chapters, "Faith," "Love," and "Hope," hinting at the brutal and marginally unwatchable recent exploration of naivete by Ulrich Seidl. What is troubling is the film's ability to capture innocent saintliness, while at the same time showing it as morbidly foolish, fatally misguided. And then, while this portrait is in a strange way beautiful, the filmmaker's indulgence in sadistic ugliness is beyond the pale. There may be echoes of Bresson and of Haneke, perhaps of Lars von Trier, but emulation of those masters has not led to magic here, only a spectacularly controversial piece of work that is bound to awaken extreme reactions. If not being able to get something out of your head is a sign of quality, Gebbe has made her mark, and her mundane yet torturous scenes are etched in muck, mud, and pain.

Nothing Bad Can Happen/Tore tanzt, 110 mins., debuted at Cannes Un Certain Regard 2013, inclusion of an example of the new German cinema at the French festival being unusual. Other festivals throughout the year. French release as Aux mains des hommes 25 June 2014 (sparsely and not so well reviewed, Allociné press rating 2.6). US release by Drafthouse Films 27 June 2014. Opened in NYC at IFC Center Thurs., 3 July 2014. Metacritic rating 54%.

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