Friday, June 1, 2007


Katie Armstrong (Felicity herself, Keri Russell) is an American graduate student in Germany, whose chosen thesis subject is the case of Oliver Hartwin (Thomas Kretschmann, most widely known for his role as Captain Englehorn in Peter Jackson’s King Kong), who found a willing victim in Simon Grombeck (Thomas Huber, seen in the live action Aeon Flux), and ate him.
This is the chillingly gruesome premise of Martin Weisz’s first feature film, Rohtenburg (Grimm Love in the US, where it is currently on the festival circuit), a disturbing portrait of that dark territory where the positive, life-affirming traits of love, collide with the self-destructive tendencies of the disturbed and the deranged.
After establishing himself firmly in the commercial and music video worlds, Weisz delivers a solid and controversial debut, which ended up getting banned in Germany.

Relying largely on flashbacks, we accompany Katie on her journey of discovery as she travels the footpaths and backroads of Oliver’s and Simon’s lives, to perhaps better understand what led them to that place and time where one allowed the other to eat him, in order to consummate their love.
And with the largely chronological nature of the flashbacks, it quickly becomes apparent that the script by T.S. Faull is moving inexorably towards Katie’s viewing of the video Oliver shot of the death of Simon, an act that will perhaps allow her to fill the hole in her life left by some undisclosed loss. Katie believes that if she can somehow come to understand the truth behind that singular confluence where Oliver and Simon found each other, then perhaps she can come to grips with her own personal darkness.

With haunting music by Steven Gutheinz and the bleak, cold beauty of Jonathan Sela’s cinematography*, Rohtenburg is a riveting descent into the damaged lives of lonely, scarred individuals, who are only really yearning for that one particular other who can make them feel safe, and whole, who can understand them completely, who can look into their souls and not flinch from the abyss that waits there.
With strangely similar family backgrounds (estranged father, mentally unstable mother), Oliver and Simon seem like nothing so much as mirror selves, merely waiting for fate to allow them to see the other’s reflection, and to let them heal each other in the dark, ghoulish manner which they desire.

Kretschmann is hypnotic as the schizophrenic Oliver, who embraces the macabre urges that roil inside him, who, in his youth, only ever experienced giving—in his round-the-clock caring for his mother—can now really only take, to satisfy the child perpetually starved of affection. (His plea for more willing victims over the internet is simply the child in the candy shop, demanding more sweets.)
Huber meanwhile, is the sad and desperate picture of the secret victim, who tries to maintain a normal relationship with lover Felix (Marcus Lucas), while trawling the net in the early morning hours, visiting websites like the Cannibal Cantina, to sate his deviant hungers. And while Oliver’s need is to absorb, Simon’s is to be absorbed, to be completely subsumed—and more pointedly, consumed—by the act of love. (One of the most disturbing moments of the film—and there are many—is when Simon tells a male prostitute what he wants done to his penis.)
And as clearly warped and twisted as these psyches are, when they meet over the internet, there is a mutual, instinctual understanding that they have indeed found their other. It is one of Rohtenburg’s triumphs that the flurry of emails back and forth between Oliver and Simon is both a heartfelt exchange and a wildly disturbing taste of the extremes to which some people will go to find love.

And as witness to this bizarre relationship, Russell is effective as the audience’s proxy, also damaged and scarred by life (though perhaps not as much as either Oliver or Simon), trying to scry for the truth in the shadowed mirror of a love soured by death, of a union where eros and thanatos lay in each other’s arms, whispered sweet nothings into each other’s ears, then proceeded to sink their teeth into each other’s haunches.

Clearly, Rohtenburg is not to everyone’s tastes (pun most definitely intended). The material is decidedly dark and morbid.
But it is also imbued with a Gothic lyricism that never allows the film to become sordid and tawdry in the way other movies of the bizarre from last year—notably Terry Gilliam’s Tideland and Gyorgy Palfi’s Taxidermia—are.
While other films seem more content to repulse and revolt, Rohtenburg’s aim is to disturb and provoke. Where is the line that separates right from wrong where love is concerned? Consenting adults, after all. And these are the people their pathologies have made them into. This is their understanding of “love.” What right does society have to say otherwise?

Perhaps the saddest note in all this though, is the fact that Weisz went from horror with significant subtext to The Hills Have Eyes 2 (review in Archive: April 2007), exactly the sort of movie whose only real purpose is to repulse and revolt. Given what he achieved in Rohtenburg, I can only hope The Hills Have Eyes 2 was an aberration, and that his next film will have as much, ahem, to chew on, as Rohtenburg does.

* Jonathan Sela’s excellent cinematography can also be seen in John Moore‘s remake of The Omen, and in the upcoming film adaptation of Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train.

Parting shot: Rohtenburg earned Wiesz the Best Director nod at the 39th Sitges International Film Festival (Europe’s biggest fantasy-horror fest). It also snagged the Best Actor award, shared between Kretschmann and Huber, and Best Cinematography for Sela.

Parting shot 2: Rohtenburg is inspired by the real life case of the Metzgermeister (“Master Butcher”), Armin Meiwes. It was Meiwes’ complaint that his “personality rights” had been violated that resulted in the German ban.

(Rohtenburg and Grimm Love OS’s courtesy of impawards com; film image courtesy of

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