Germany, 2005, 122 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Christian Alvart.
If you are after serious and powerful drama, Antibodies is a film to look out for. It is very tough going but is well worthwhile on many levels.
Some introductory quotations indicate a theme, especially one from Dostoievski who said that if God does not exist, then everything is lawful. The God and good and evil theme pervades the film, especially in its focus on a Catholic village with its surface respectability, its high ideals and its ignoring of the dark side of human nature. But that is not all.
The film opens with a portrait of a very mentally disturbed serial killer and his arrest. When he is interrogated in hospital about his crimes, he begins to play mind games with the police. In the meantime, we are shown the village and its part-time farmer/policeman. One of the murders has taken place here and there is a pall of suspicion that disrupts his family life: the policeman himself who wants to solve the crime, his brutal father-in-law, his kind and patient wife, his precocious thirteen year old son.
How writer-director Christian Alvart connects all these characters in overt story and in subtle ways means a very intricate screenplay which leads the audiences in many directions. The director enters into the mind of the killer and plays mind-games with us. We are led deeper into the possibilities of evil, We are really shocked by some of these possibilities, hoping against hope that they are not the reality but finally believing that they are – only to discover that we, like some of the characters, are the victims of grotesque malice.
On the level of serial killer investigation, the film is excellent. When we are thinking Silence of the Lambs, the killer himself makes explicit the comparison and differences.
On the level of characters who try to live exemplary lives being taunted, then tempted, then insidiously influenced by evil insinuations, the film is an appropriately demanding cautionary tale, with a descent into the realms of passionate sexuality and violence.
On the level of explicit reference to some Catholic traditions, the film is powerful. There is a strong confessional sequence where the priest, in good faith, goes through the proper motions without any pastoral concern besides clarifying aspects of the sinfulness. He shows no awareness of the penitent’s need, not merely for the words and even the meaning of absolution, but the need for atonement, some kind of expiating suffering that seems in some proportion to the evil committed. And, when some Our Fathers and Hail Marys seem too glib and easy a penance, then mortification and self-inflicted pain seem to be the only proper action.
As the film reaches its climax, a sermon by the parish priest on Abraham sacrificing Isaac, is voiced over the action raising all kinds of biblical questions of interpretation as well as highlighting the nature of God, compassionate or cruel.
This is the kind of film that Graham Greene, Bryan Moore and other writers with tormented Catholic backgrounds and searching would really like and appreciate.
1.The impact of the drama, intense, its working at many levels?
2.The German setting, locations, the Bavarian countryside, the village, the woods and hunting, the contrast with Berlin, apartments and streets, police precincts, the hospital? Authentic atmosphere?
3.The colour photography, the darkness of the city, the openness of the countryside? The musical score? The use of hymns and the liturgy?
4.The title, physical, sensuality, sexuality, violence? The puritanical background of the murderer? Of the Christian tradition of mortification, going against the flesh?
5.The prologue, the introduction to Engel (and the symbolic name: Angel)? The brutality of his paintings, using the victims’ blood, the old lady hearing the scream, his tube for getting the blood from the child? Naked, the gun, his firing against the police, the intensity of his being caught, chased, wounded? The deaths of the police? The getting assistance, his arrest? Setting a mood for the film?
6.The contrast with the village, Michael and his family, waking up in the morning, the boy having wet the bed and putting out the sheets, the mother awake, Michael going on the hunt, the dog, meeting his father-in-law, the antagonism of his father-in-law, the criticisms of his family life, his wife, the atmosphere in the village with people under suspicion for the murder? The father-in-law putting the dog in his sights, killing the dog? The irony of the later killing of another dog?
7.The interrogation of Engel: Engel, his age, background, experience, artist, his relationship with the boys, his description of the murders, his pleasure in sadism, the masturbation, the abuse, the number of squares painted on the wall? His willingness to talk, his silences? His wanting the diary?
8.The portrait of Michael, his wife, a good family, an upright family? Going to mass, the sermons? His going to communion – and the communion scene with the priest talking about tests? His son, wanting the best of his son, his anger with his son and his lack of achievement? Burying the dog and his son helping? His work as a policeman in the village, part-time farmer? Berlin, the inspector, the rivalries in the heads of the police? His visit? His memories of his work, sitting outside and Engel’s car going past, his finding the dead girl after the search, the crucifix in her hand and his taking it, cleaning it? Her missing underpants? The mystery of the identity of the killer? His going to Berlin, farewelling his wife, his pride in his achievement, the visit to Engel, Engel talking? His wondering why Engel wanted to talk to him – and the later revelation of Engel’s malicious plot? The discussion with Engel, Engel’s question about his relationship with his wife, sexual encounters, abusive language? Knowing about his son? Engel and the final revelation of the story, his lying about Christian, his eavesdropping, the masturbation, the without young children swimming, his description of Christian killing the girl? The effect on Michael?
9.Michael and his wife, tensions, his going to the city, the interview, going to the apartment, the squares on the wall, bashing down the wall, finding the box with the underpants? His working with the inspector? His pride, in the street, sitting and contemplating, the woman from the shop, persuading him to buy the suit, his going to the brothel, his rejecting the advances of the women, the behaviour of the inspector? The hotel, alone, watching the different channels, the pornography, his changing channels, the orthodox ritual? Engel’s taunts about himself? His going to find the woman, going to her apartment, his fall from grace, his being infected by Engel’s attitude? His return home, with his wife, going to confession, the priest and the matter-of-factness of the penance, the questions, his not feeling that there was enough atonement, getting the staples, punching them into his arm, his mortification and atonement? The meetings, the discussion with the people in the village, the inspectors from Berlin, the blood tests for DNA – and nobody guilty? His father-in-law’s leading the criticism, at the meeting, killing the dog, Michael confronting him in the barn, his wife explaining that he was impotent and therefore not the killer?
10.The picture of the police, hard, rivalries in the bureau, the nature of the interrogations, taping all the interviews, Engel and his realising this? The scene of the killings, the wall, the underpants? The policeman and his being at home in the brothel?
11.Engel, his being poisoned, the discovery of the officer who was bribed to bring in the poison, the disappearance of the diary? Michael and the further interrogation, Engel dying, his revelation of the story about Christian? His hatred of Michael, the plan to destroy the whole family, Michael’s physical attack and trying to strangle him? The lies? More squares being painted?
12.Michael going home, his son’s birthday, his belief that his son was a killer, agreeing to take him out hunting, their riding? The priest and the sermon on Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac? The voice-over, Michael and his pain, his looking at his son, the audience seeing the son and presuming him guilty? Sending him out, putting him in his sights, the boy going into the woods? His father coming to him, the grief, embracing him, about to shoot him? The deer and the whole group coming around – the equivalent of the sheep in the biblical story?
13.The discovery of the diary, the officer and his getting the helicopter, rushing to the scene, to Michael’s wife, over the hunting woods, stopping Michael? The truth – and the visualising of what actually happened and Engel’s malice?
14.The film’s portrayal of the mind of a serial killer? Police investigations and interrogations?
15.The portrait of the Bavarian village, its Catholic background, religiosity, inbred? Righteous? The danger of the righteous and the suppression of the shadow side, not admitting it – and then the possibility of seeking it out, falling, confession and repentance, atonement?
16.The portrait of family, pressures from parents, expectations, the son? Engel and the suggestion of wetting the bed, torturing animals – and Engel describing how Christian and the girl had tortured the lamb? The sadistic attitude as the childhood background for serial killers?
17.The biblical references, Michael and his attitude towards Old and New Testament? The Abraham story as a symbol?
18.What was the audience left with? The experience, the emotions, the understanding and insights?