Finsterworld (2013): Written by Frauke Finsterwalder and Christian Kracht, directed by Frauke Finsterwalder. Starring: Ronald Zehrfeld, Sandra Hüller, Michael Maertens, Margit Carstensen, Corinna Harfouch, Bernhard Schütz, Johannes Krisch, Christoph Bach, Carla Juri, Leonard Scheicher, Max Pellny, Jakub Gierszał, Markus Hering, and Dieter Meier. Music by: Michaela Melian. Running Time: 91 minutes. Based on the novel by the same writers.
If Finsterworld had a subtitle, I imagine it would be something along the lines of; Finsterworld: Are You Creeped Out Yet? No? Damn. Well, How About Now? I’ve always asserted that movies that resort to overt graphic representation of violence or sex to make their viewers feel scared, or upset, or uncomfortable are spinning their wheels in cinematic bush league. Real terror comes from suggestion- what you anticipate is about to happen when a murderer lifts their ax, or what you imagine is going on when one character pushes another behind a foggy pane of glass. And even if you want to show something on-screen, overt sadistry won’t get you nearly as far as showing something so out-of-left-field bizarre, so impossible to anticipate, that you immediately want to glance away out of sheer squeamishness, even if there’s no blood. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Finsterworld.
By my count, the total number of “official” characters in Finsterworld numbers an even baker’s dozen, whose lives and actions during a single day are all interconnected via a vast web of tangents and happenstance occurrences. A group of students are on a trip to memorials of concentration camps within Germany. The parents of one of the children, rich and blissfully pessimistic about humanity, are driving a rented car to...somewhere not in Germany (which they hate, in case you miss that). This pessimism extends to the man’s mother, unhappily confined to a retirement home, her only confidant the masseur who comes a few times a week to clean her feet. He, in turn, was stopped that morning by a policeman, who moonlights as a Fury to vent his frustrations over his aspiring artist of a girlfriend. Unfortunately, his pelty secret has been discovered by a man living in the forest who saw him change into his silky white counterpart.
The various episodes that follow are not a cohesive narrative by any stretch of the imagination, more like vignettes that, in different ways, try to delve into various aspects of the German psyche and self-image, especially in regards to the admittedly heavy legacy of Nazism and the Holocaust. I say try, because while I certainly appreciate the film’s ambition, and even admire certain aspects of it, I’m not convinced it accomplishes what it sets out to do.
I really can’t put my finger on why I feel this way- I just know that, even a few days after seeing the movie, I can’t seem to form an overall impression of it in my mind. The acting’s fine, as is the writing (although it’s a bit preachy in spots), and the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard this year, but other than that, the only thing about Finsterworld that’s really stuck is how damn creepy it gets at times, occasionally in surprisingly philosophical ways.
For example (INCOMING SPOILERS), there’s one scene where a girl is forcefully shoved into one of the ovens at the concentration camp they are visiting (we’re never told which one). If just knowing that someone’s locked in a Nazi oven isn’t enough for you, the level of unsettling goes up a more abstract notch when she’s pulled out, and you realize that there’s probably more than a few bits of decades-old human ash mixed into her hair and clothes. Creepy as hell, but darned if I know what I should take away from it. The stand-out, however, is the pedicurist who visits the old retired woman. This guy deserves a special award for creating a veritable singularity of eeriness, where any other thought you might have in your head is immediately driven out by some variation of, “Wait, what’s he….oh. Oh! OH GOD NO! PLEASE NO!”
I don’t know who I could recommend Finsterworld to. Perhaps anyone who’s really desperate for an above-average German flick, and also have a taste for more abstract, arthousey style films. Even if you’re as interested as I am in the continuing psychological exploration of post-WWII Germany, I don’t know if there’s anything new you could take away from this. But it is a unique and interesting effort, even if it never really manages to go anywhere by the end. Tentatively recommended.