Tiger Girl (2017): Written and directed by Jakob Lass. Starring: Ella Rumpf, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Enno Trebs, and Orce Feldschau. Running Time: 90 minutes.
The German film scene has never been anywhere near as prolific as the more dominant industries in the US, Great Britain, India, Japan, or others, so it’s been an enjoyable relief to see a relative flurry of interesting works come out in recent years, from the brilliantly old-school Pheonix, to the internationally lauded Toni Erdmann, to more avant-garde, experimental flicks like Victoria and The Nightmare. Tiger Girl, directed by Jakob Lass, firmly belongs in the latter category, a mish-mash of various styles and genres that, thankfully, succeeds far more often than it fails.
In another universe, this film would play out as the origin story for a comic-book-style tag team of female anti-heroes who take it on themselves to wreck whatever havoc they desire on the nightlife of Berlin; Vanilla, an aspiring police officer/security guard who just can’t seem to cut it in her chosen line of work; Tiger, a wild, mysterious woman who is maybe stalking Vanilla, is maybe her guardian angel, or is maybe just one of those chance encounters that later proves seminal in one’s life. Cue an upside-down shot of a baseball bat rolling across a grimy subway station floor to Vanilla’s feet, and we’re off to the races.
Whichever way it happened, they’ve found each other, and with Tiger’s utter fearlessness and Vanilla’s ability through her job to access official security outfits, with which they are basically permitted to go wherever they please, they just might be unstoppable. There’s no real purpose to their wanderings and their random crimes, ranging from the truly petty (breaking a box of abandoned china) to actually pretty serious (battery and sexual assault on random, unsuspecting innocents). There’s no greater scheme to steal from the rich and give to the poor. They discover that they can get away with all of this, so they do it, simple as that.
I suppose the film could have played with the fact that the uniforms they wear allow them to get away with so much simply because most can’t bring themselves to say no to a person in uniform as some sort of broad takedown of our blind cultural trust for officials. But that would require real work, and if there’s one thing Vanilla and Tiger can’t abide, its work. Why bother, when whatever they could want is ripe for the taking? The entire film is like the very concept of nihilism distilled into its purest form, where nothing matters and anything goes, set to rapidly edited, partially-improvised arthouse stylization.
Some of the more stunning moments in the film are when the entire movie shifts gears and becomes a surprisingly kickass action movie. It’s no John Wick (what is?) but there is a remarkable smoothness and dynamism to the choreography of Vanilla and Tiger taking out a group of assailants in a subway station. For my money, the movie’s high point is when the two randomly decide to pick on the curator of a modern art exhibit, who, quite out of the blue, turns out to be a fairly decent martial-artist herself (because, really, why not?).
Thankfully, there is no attempt to craft a backstory for either character, especially for Tiger, whom Ella Rumpf fills with an infectious charisma that turns her into the center of every shot she’s in. This is one of those performances that define a film by giving birth to a character so wholly unique, that they can’t quite be compared to anything else. It would have been all too easy to coagulate something or other about Tiger being abused as a girl or having her heart broken by a lawman as a go-to explanation for her virulent anti-socialism, but the creators of this film made a smart choice in simply letting Tiger be Tiger, in all her strange, oddball, possibly psychotic glory.
Sadly, Tiger alone isn’t enough to salvage some of the film’s lesser elements. She has two friends caught up in a drug-dealing ring that are by far the movie’s weakest link. Nothing about them is original or interesting, and every scene with them only serves to drag the film down from the potent highs it achieves at its best. There’s simply too big a distance between them and the bizarre escapade montages of Tiger and Vanilla strutting around the city at night, pulling increasingly bizarre stunts, to ignore.
Though it is a touch too disjointed because of this, and does drag a bit too often, when Tiger Girl hits its stride, it doesn’t just fly, it soars. It is by no means an easy viewing experience- anyone with an acute discomfort for ceaseless rudeness or wanton, unpublished public vandalism should tread carefully- but like much of its contemporaries on the current German film scene, Tiger Girl is certainly Something Else, and that alone makes it worth our consideration.