Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Marthas Garten – review

Director: Peter Liechti

Release date: 1997

Contains spoilers

A Swiss film noir shot in black and white with a central vampire aspect is not exactly the most common cinematic fare but it is exactly what Peter Liechti gave us. A film utterly different than the blurb offered on the Amazon disc page that is clearly for a different movie!

The film starts with people watching clowns on TV in a shop window and a girl with a balloon (and, as I watched, this invoked the film M). Karl Winter (Stefan Kurt) is in a coffee shop and it is his voice that leads us through the film. He finds the coffee shop pleasant, so pleasant he doesn’t wish to ever leave. He does leave though making his way home through the quiet and dull town.

Stefan Kurt as Karl
His voice-over suggests that life would have been different if he was either five minutes earlier or later. As it was he turns a corner to see a woman, Martha (Susanne Lüning) kneeling over the prostrate body of a man as she sees him she runs off. As he goes to the man she returns and tells Karl that he is dead, falls into Karl’s arms and then is sick on his shoulder. Yet, despite this, he finds himself attracted to her. She passes him a tissue but he sends her to get help.

the bus
As he waits with the body he notices someone in a building nearby closing a window (Karl is holding the man's head at this point and drops it heavily to the ground as the window closes). He sees a bus pass by, the passengers all seem to be looking at him. He gets cold feet as it is not his type of adventure. He wonders why she was fumbling with the dead man’s collar and eventually he walks away wondering if he was seen with the body.

snow canoeing 
He goes for a day out with his friend Uwe (László I. Kish) but doesn’t tell his friend what happened despite the fact that Martha is on his mind. He and Uwe go out to have adventures, this time it is dragging a canoe up a mountainside as the wind turns the snowfall into the best part of a blizzard to toboggan down the slope. At other times they play with home-made Chinese lanterns or fire rocks into the air with a catapult to see how close they can get the falling stone to them without hitting them.

Karl-Ulrich Meves as Tepesh
When Karl returns home he is accosted by a man, later we discover he is called Mr Tepesh (Karl-Ulrich Meves). He has been waiting for Karl and has brought flowers from Martha who wants to explain things to him. She arrives but no explanation is given. They kiss and end up in bed but in the morning she is gone. He eventually tells Uwe and Uwe’s girlfriend Claire (Nina Hoger) about Martha. She is really playing on his mind and he thinks he sees her in the coffee shop but she isn’t there.

they kiss
Getting to his flat he finds her inside and she begs that he not send her away. In the morning he dreams that as he strokes her skin it is fur he feels. When he awakens Tepesh and his neighbour are both in his flat, Tepesh is moving into a flat at the top of the building. As his relationship with Martha develops he is frustrated by the fact that she tells him nothing about her life, she vanishes for periods of time and seems to think she is being followed.

checking her reflection
He gets more and more paranoid. She has shown him a newspaper report about hikers torn apart by dogs, she carries stories in her purse about vampires and Tepesh seems to have some hold over her. At one point he even checks her reflection, whilst she sleeps, in a mirror. Could she be a vampire? Or Tepesh? Indeed is he surrounded by them as he begins to think?

Susanne Lüning as Martha
The film is a mystery, of course, and I think that’s where it finds its strength and its weakness. As a twisted noir it works really well but once it builds to its strange conclusion you know where it has taken you and it makes repeated viewings weak. However, on first watch, I was enthralled as Karl guided us down the rabbit hole. The leads are excellent, Stefan Kurt balances paranoia and plausibility with aplomb and Susanne Lüning is suitably the woman of mystery with perhaps a look reminiscent of Catherine Deneuve. Liechti manages to steer a course through the strangeness whilst ensuring that the film keeps a foothold in the mundane. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

2 comments:

JaredMithrandir said...

I'm gonna have to see this, I LOVED the recent Noir episode of Pretty Little Liars.

My story in Tales of The Shadowmen 10 goes for a Film Noir vibe too.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Let me know what you think when seen :)