Bloodsuckers : ‘Berlinale’ Review – Marxist Vampire Comedy moves from being a biting satire to a sluggish tryst
If you find imprints of Roy Andersson and legendry Mexican director Luis Buñuel all over Julian Radlmaier’s latest satire “Bloodsuckers – A Marxist Vampire Comedy” (Blutsauger) then you wouldn’t be far off. The comic sensibilities of Andersson are coupled with Buñuel’s deconstruction of the bourgeoisie construct in yet another ode to cinephilia.
Pretty much like his feature-length debut “Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog” parts of Radlmaier’s film present a sharp political discourse. However, they again feel like an overobvious, ideological clash that gets more and more sluggish with each passing second. In his own words, the outline of the film is ‘A vampire comedy with romantic elements’ but neither the comedy sticks nor the satire gets amusingly satirical.
The film opens with a book club trying to deconstruct Marx’s theory of Das Capital. One of them is unable to understand why Marx refers to the capitalist class as Vampires until one of them points out that it’s just a basic metaphor. Set in 1928 – a year which is only used as a plot point, the film follows Lyovuschka – a Soviet worker turned film actor who had to flee the country when he is edited out of Sergei Eisenstein’s latest film ‘October’ due to Stalin’s disapproval.
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He somehow manages to take a ticket out of his communist homeland in the lure of working in Hollywood but gets further sucked into the life of the Bourgeois when he is wrongly identified as a Baron by factory owner Octavia Flambow-Jansen. Currently residing in her glamorous German seaside resort on the Baltic Sea, Octavia soon realizes that he is not a fleeing aristocrat but a thief. However, she keeps him in her home because she is amused by his weary eyes and poetic charm.
Her servant Jackob, on the other hand, is particularly jealous about this newest development in Octavia’s life. While being meek and obedient about Octavia’s wishes, Jackob is particularly fond of her beauty. He is head over heels in love with her and considers Octavia’s choice to not call him a servant but a personal assistant as a slight approval of his admiration rather than a desperate want to follow the American ways. Sadly, Jackob finds himself in a state of complete dismay when his self-less care towards Octavia is met with obvious sighs as soon as Lyovuschka enters the picture.
Julian Radlmaier’s film explores numerous themes in a comedy that is essentially set against the backdrop of a romance. The Vampires are off course a direct and oh-so-obvious representation of the capitalists but Radlmaier’s satire varies from the seductiveness of the bourgeois lifestyle to mistreatment of laborers. The age-old beliefs of the class differences within the confines of a comedy are tested as it also meekly claps as the laziness bestowed by a high-end lifestyle.
Bloodsuckers is basically an idea that is probingly funny on paper. An industrialist driving a sports bike while wearing a classic, vintage dress in the 1928s and having a kind of wobbly faith in democratic freedom is Radlmaier’s way of showing us the urgency of these themes even in the contemporary world. However, his satire and comic chops fall flat on multiple occasions. The quirky tone sets it right up in the alley of funny films like Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement’s “What We Do in the Shadows” but Radlmaier has so many thematical elements to juggle here that it all feels like a slog.
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Broken into 4 chapters, each of which seems like a huge departure from the tone of the other, Bloodsuckers formidably becomes more and more counter-constructive. As if it’s trying to cancel both the leftist and rightist perceptions without actually saying much for doing so. The choice of using both professional and non-professional actors in the narrative doesn’t bestow the film with an actively deranged personality as the director hopes for. The consequence of that choice is a stoic comedy that feels like it is border lining pretense.
Somewhere in the last act of the film, an invisible hand takes a man to the actual conflict of the film. It is almost as if the naked eye needed a ghost-like entity to guide you through the final nail in the coffin. Watching “Bloodsuckers” felt a lot like that. I was being guided through a kaleidoscope of random thoughts that hit and missed their mark intermittently.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER/EDITOR: Julian Radlmaier
DOP: Markus Koob
LANGUAGE: German, English, Russian
RUNTIME: 127 MINUTES