Jörg Buttgereit seems like the sorta guy you don’t want to sit next to at a dinner party.
Der Todesking (The Death King) is his second movie, after his impossible-to-top debut, Nekromantik. Except it’s not really a movie, more a series of elegiac meditations on death.
It’s also quite possibly the most depressing film ever made.
We open on a decomposing corpse.
A man comes home. He writes a letter. He hoovers. He goes to bed. Everything seems to take place in real time. He runs a bath. He overdoses.
That’s all folks. Next story.
Long regarded as a thoughtless goremonger by the mainstream (if they ever even think of him at all), Buttgereit is more of an art house provocateur. Throughout Der Todesking, he plays with the grammar of cinema, juxtaposing moments of serene beauty with dark, dark horror.
In one sequence, the film in the camera jumps and distorts, obscuring a key line of dialogue. In another, the entire scene plays out to the soundtrack of nothing but the noise of film running through the camera as we witness a mass murder at a concert play out through the lens of the camera. It’s like Powell’s Peeping Tom for the video nasty generation.
Taking things to another level, Buttgereit moves on to real life death. There’s an artfully shot segment where the camera simply falls in love with the brutalist architecture of a German bridge, while captions tell us the names of the people who have committed suicide here.
It’s relentlessly, numbingly bleak, and I imagine most people will give up fairly quickly and switch the film off, gasping for air.
But it’s also beautifully shot, and throughout Buttgereit masterfully captures the hopeless banality of death. I just can’t imagine what frame of mind he must have been in while making this.
Der Todesking is the kind of film that is difficult to recommend. It’s not one for the gorehounds, as there’s only one quick moment of eye watering nastiness, while the art house crowd would most likely run for the hills the moment the penis is placed between the blades of the shears. But if you, like me, fall somewhere in between those camps, then it’s certainly worth a watch.
Buttgereit would go on to make a sequel to Nekromantik and then the serial killer flick Schramm, before disappearing from feature film-making for about 20 years. Last year, his long awaited (by some of us, anyway) comeback was released. German Angst is an anthology horror, with stories by Buttgereit and 2 other directors. Let’s hope the old bastard has cheered up a bit since this film…
WHAT BORIS THOUGHT: Weirdly, Boris sat in rapt silence for most of the film, staring at the screen. This is very unusual, and I can only assume my pug is going through a deep existential crisis.
OVERALL: 4 paws out of 5