Eye For Film >> Movies >> Schmitke (2014) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
The suggestion that nothing is going to be quite as it seems in Stepan Altricher's blackly comic drama is apparent from the start, where pastoral sound effects give way to music with an altogether more creepy vibe. It's a mark of a film where sound design is repeatedly used to unsettle both its characters and us as the action treads a line between deadpan realism and a absurdist landscape in which the protagonist seems to be having the most downbeat of existential crises.
The success of the film is due in no small part to Peter Kurth's deadpan performance in the titular role. A German wind turbine engineer whose best days in the workforce lie firmly behind him, his life is a drab routine. His day is split between his minimalist apartment and work at the testing centre where his younger colleague Thomas (Johann Jürgens) does as little as possible, punctuated at night by odd dreams of walking through the forest that give him a lingering daytime interest in a news story regarding a 'bear man', who has been discovered after years of living off the grid.
His daughter comes to visit and is quickly festooning his flat with Indian throw rugs and Buddhas - although amusingly able to bury her principles when it suits. He's about to encounter an environment even more alien, however, when he is dispatched to the wilds of the Czech countryside with Thomas to solve the mystery of a broken turbine. Altricher - who co-wrote the script with Tomás Koncinský and Jan Fusek uses the rural setting for comedic and atmospheric purposes.
On arrival in the unpronounceable village of Chrmelava, Thomas suggests they have travelled through time and looking at the eccentric collection of locals in the hotel and bar where they're staying it's hard to disagree. There are shades of The Slaughtered Lamb about this local, where an order for a cup of tea is met with glares of hostility, as an elderly woman who could have stumbled in from a David Lynch film tells him: "You ordered tea. They don't like that."
If the welcome is unnerving, so is the ambience, with the wonky wind turbine groaning in the distance like an otherworldly monster, while thick fog hanging over the surrounding fields and forest only adds to the odd sense of danger, although Kurth, at least intially, remains comedically unruffled. Altricher isn't satisfied with simple black comedy, taking his film into thriller territory when Thomas mysteriously vanishes in the night. Suddenly it seems that things may not be as straight forward as we thought and that Kurth's perspective might be skewed.
Perhaps it's the number of writers who had their hands on the script but the film begins to lose ground towards the end as some of the comedy and tighter action of the first two-thirds of the movie are jettisoned in favour of focusing more on Kurth's 'crisis'. Like the engineer's Sat Nav, which gets into an argument with itself, "turn left, turn right, go back", the writers ultimately seem unsure of the direction in which they want to take things in, although Kurth compels us to stay with him until he reaches his destination. It's worth noting that this is Altricher's graduation film - he's certainly got his career off to an impressive start.Reviewed on: 09 Nov 2016