I always look forward to the Chicago European Union Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center every year – this one is their 19th annual, and it runs from March 4 – 31.
Director Johannes Naber spent 12 years or so working for other directors as a gaffer and lighting technician before making his own directorial feature film debut in 2010 with the warmly-received The Albanian. His follow-up, Age Of Cannibals (Zeit Der Kannibalen) (Germany, 2014) is an impressively staged chamber drama full of black humor and an excoriating view of global capitalism. Kai Niederländer (Sebastian Blomberg) and Frank Öllers (Devid Striesow) have been sales consultants for an unnamed ‘Company’ for years – hard-working and good at their jobs, they can practically finish each other’s sentences. They’ve just lost a third member of the team, Hellinger, to (in their view) a wholly undeserved promotion, and they’re subsequently joined by a new associate, Bianca März (Katharina Schüttler), who may be a talented rookie or a mole for their bosses, a great addition or a high-maintenance distraction.
The team jets from India to China to Nigeria and, presumably, a blur of points in-between. But all we see in the film are hotel rooms, hotel hallways, hotel conference rooms, hotel bars; when Bianca suggests a walk outside, Kai recoils: “Do you know how hot it is out there?!” Kai keeps his sanity by taking perceived grievances out on various hotel employees with unsettling vehemence. Frank stays in touch with his family back in Hamburg, but it’s clear that his absence is taking a toll on his wife and small son. The film’s title, of course, cuts both ways – Kai, Frank and Bianca are pulling in a great deal of business from people they’d rather murder in their sleep, but they, too, are being slowly, unknowingly, directed towards their own dire fates.
The highly theatrical nature of Naber’s film (and the superb script written by Stefan Weigl) reminded me of another black comedy of global corporate absurdity, Marcelo Piñeyro’s 2005 The Method (El Método). Each film starts out realistically, but as the proceedings become more character-specific AND more abstracted, our credulousness is tested, agreeably, by the filmmakers’ insistence on making larger points. Naber knew he had a great script, created a smart environment for that stuff to happen in (with great work from cinematographer Pascal Schmit and production designer Tim Pannen) and got out of his actors’ way. I loved this film, and highly recommend it.
“Age Of Cannibals” will be shown on Saturday, March 12th at 6:15 pm and Wednesday the 16th at 6:00 pm.