Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Der Knochenmann – The Bone Man

More dead bodies from Austria. The Bone Man directed by Wolfgang Murnberger and based on the novel by Wolf Haas. Der Knochenmann (The Bone Man) is set in a town near the Slovak border, where the prejudices of East versus West, City versus Country and Man versus Woman all seem to find their justification. That sounds grim, and this is, after all, a thriller, but one with a wry ironic smirk on its face. Coming after last year’s gem, Revanche, it seems that the Austrians may have hit on


Brenner drowns his troubles as Berthi entertains a new conquest in the background

their perfect cinematic recipe: a pinch of lust, a teaspoon of Vienna versus the sticks, two cups of east-west human trafficking and a whole lot of the primordial evil lurking in man’s soul. A bit upside-down, a bit perverse, a bit Austrian. This is the third in a series of films about the hard-boiled private detective Brenner. First came Komm, süsser Tod, (2000), and then Silentium (2004) and now this, which many people are calling the best of the three.

There are some colorful characters that make it come alive: Berthi, (Simon Schwarz), Brenner’s foolish pal who doesn’t let his Vladimir Putin hangdog mug stop him from chasing every skirt that passes by, and then the restaurant owner’s son, Porsche Pauli (Christoph Luser) a whiny, fairly psychotic loser who manages to put everyone in danger. And some minor characters from across the border that add some ex-socialist charm: the dour waitress and the Slovak hood in a wheelchair, played by the veteran actor Ivan Shvedoff. This may not have the ethnographic depth of Revanche, but it does have a certain contemporary veracity that is very powerful and great fun to watch. Especially fun are the thick Austrian accents, notably on Brenner, Berthi and Birgit, all as thick and doughy as a Knodel dumpling – so avoid any dubbed versions of the film, and listen to some great vocal acting.

They have also given themselves an excellent script to work with. The screenplay was written by the novelist Wolf Haas, along with Murnberger and the two main actors Josef Hader (Brenner) and Birgit Minichmayr (Birgit). There are a few exaggerations that detract from the whole, though. I couldn’t help but wonder how a person could walk around for several hours after his finger has been chopped off, discussing every topic that comes up. I have the feeling that he would want to get to a hospital posthaste. And the great masked ball at the climax of the film was way over-the-top and totally unnecessary. The story builds to its own big scene through effective plot points, so it does not need the phony climax made out of costumes and props. The contrived festivities are a distraction and take us away from the real action happening one floor below. I would have much preferred a more subdued party in the restaurant that could distract the story’s characters without disorienting the viewer. And the ghoulish French title, “Bienvenu au Cadavres-les-Bains” (more or less: “Welcome to the Town of Dead Bodies”): this is a translation of a pun in the original German, in which the town’s name is transformed into “Leichenberg,” but it gives the wrong impression of a Halloweenish horror film. This is pure film noir, Twenty-first Century style.

Click on the trailer in the sidebar. It begins with some teaser shots from the first two films. In German.


November 2, 2009 - Posted by | cinema | , , , ,

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