Der Samurai review
Scoping out IMDb for information on Der Samurai, one can’t help but notice the plot keywords that others have tagged: “male pubic hair” and “erection” are two that stand out, and yet they are a small portion of the dreamscape that is Till Kleinert’s film. Perhaps these shocking elements are noticeable in a film that is otherwise bleakly shot, both in its foggy nighttime forest setting but also in the strange and truncated way the scenes and dialogue are edited; or maybe it’s that the depiction of full frontal male nudity, especially with an erect member, is somewhat taboo in cinema. Either way, it certainly makes a statement – Der Samurai is unique in its ethereal approach to its storyline, and though it tends to make some of its themes explicit, the overall moral of the film is left up to the viewer to decide by analyzing the visual cues and Freudian overtones.
The film is set up like an 80-minute cat-and-mouse chase; the subject in question, the protagonist and police officer of the town Jakob (Michel Diercks), is both the pursuer and the pursued, caught in a surrealistic dream state that involves a samurai with a large sword (Pit Bukowski) slashing up people and things all over town and prompting Jakob to participate. Kleinert, who wrote and directed, infuses Der Samurai with a lot of stylish moments, from the shot choices to the way the dialogue seamlessly slips in and out of context. It is a story that is intentionally fluid, and it makes sense for many of the scenes to feature running, walking, and movement.
These choices are metaphorical, and it should be clear to the audience that Der Samurai is more than just a movie about a guy in a woman’s dress with a long sword. Kleinert first opts to show Jakob in various stages of uneasiness and weakness; he’s not an effective cop, mostly bullied around by motorcycle thugs despite his attempts to stop them from their mischief, and he’s also grounded in his small town life because of his ailing grandmother. Kleinert’s early focus on these things paints Jakob as a sorry soul, not exactly depressed but grave.
From there, the samurai shows up to give Jakob some excitement; he slices and dices his way through town, running through forests and the small village to tear apart nearly everything in his way. There’s a tendency to refer to the wolves around the German town as though werewolfism is a part of Der Samurai; however, that supernatural element is never explored, and in fact, seems to be a bit misleading. It’s more about the return of a beast, the alternate side to a human psyche, than a literal transformation from humanity to a mythic creature.
Der Samurai is loaded with symbolism, from its minuscule model town (a shot even shows Jakob running down the road) to the phallic nature of the sword that the samurai swings – and then quite literally with the samurai’s erection in the final moments. There’s a psychological message hidden within the film, but it’s difficult to tell exactly what it is that Kleinert means to impose. Hints and clues based on interactions can give the viewer some meaning, but the ultimate goal is lost on a few messier, underpolished moments.
With that said, there is strength in the way Kleinert assembles all of these moments into an atmospheric whole. The final encounter between Jakob and der samurai can be taken in a number of ways, but the phallic symbolism seems to indicate homoerotic overtones, a feeling that resonates throughout the film. Jakob is referred to as the lone wolf, a reference that may indicate his own hidden natures and the loneliness of a lifestyle that is, unfortunately, still not widely accepted especially in small villages. At the same time, it can be surmised that Jakob’s final fight with der samurai is actually a return to strength, the explosions from the head of the victim a metaphor for Jakob’s success in finding himself.
Der Samurai, then, can be viewed in multiple contexts, and that comes with both praise and criticism. Kleinert’s often ambiguous messages can create meaningful discussion while also frustrating viewers looking for answers. Paired with a few missteps in the beginning of the film, some audiences will most likely find Der Samurai contrived or put off by the apparent homosexual theme and dick-waggling (its fucking 2015, you prudes). But Kleinert’s arty piece is also inspiring and pleasingly odd, a film that will have viewers questioning its story and the stylish conveyance of its footage.
Click next for the Blu-Ray review.