White letters on a black screen: “This film has to be played loud”, followed by a heavy and fast-beating disco sound, very loud indeed. This is the beginning of “Der Nachtmahr”, one of the 18 German films that world-premiered at the 33rd Munich Film Festival, which ran from June 25 to July 5.
It is almost a film defying genre, a film that does not fit into any categorisation, at least not within German cinema. While the written insert in the short opening is in English, the film itself has no English title. And even Germans might not quite understand the German title. Nachtmahr is an old German word not used in active language anymore. The title refers to a famous painting by Swiss artist Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741-1825). It shows a sleeping woman in bed with an ugly-looking creature sitting on her body. The literal translation of the title is “The Nightmare”, but it can also be “Fairy Tale of the Night”.
Both translations fit well with the content and the visual appearance of “Der Nachtmahr”. In the film by German filmmaker AKIZ – known as Achim Bornhak when he works as a painter or sculptor – the ugly creature first appears on the mobile display of one of the adolescent girls driving in a fancy convertible car to a party hot spot, photoshopped into the face of one of the girls. Shortly afterwards the girl is, while crossing the street, deadly hit by a speeding car. Later in the film the scene is epeated several times, and we can see that it actually is the creature that is hit by the car.
The making of this first cinema feature took director AKIZ, who also has credits as screenwriter, editor and producer, a full 13 years. He constructed the creature himself – a slimy greyish puppet somewhere between E.T. and Eraserhead – at the beginning of his long journey and went to see producers, institutions and funding bodies. But no-one showed interest in his script about the 17-year-old Tina haunted by the creature not only in her dreams, but also at daytime at home, in school and finally at one of the parties with her friends.
So AKIZ took things into his own hands and founded the production company 000-Films. With reportedly 87,000 Euro he produced a film that looks like a two to three million Euro production. Everyone worked for free; no-one got paid. Up-and-coming young German actress Carolyn Genzkow plays her first lead role. She delivers an outstanding and highly believable performance as a spoilt party girl haunted by her alter-ego, desperately searching acceptance from her coming-of-age-buddies, understanding from her bourgeois parents and love from a boy that seems as lost as herself. Sonic Youth singer Kim Gordon, who presented Achim Bornhak’s work last year at the MoMA in New York, is cast as the English teacher in Tina’s school.
While teachers, parents and even a psychologist don’t seem to find a way to help Tina, she herself realises that the creature is in fact an incarnation of her own fears and feelings, and that by making friends with her other self she will finally find peace; unlike the people around her who think that drugs and booze have led to – as they see it – Tina’s insanity.
“Der Nachtmahr” is an exceptionally well-executed and fine-looking first film, intelligently constructed, beautifully shot in short, mostly dark takes, and underpinned by a fast-beating soundtrack. “Der Nachtmahr” is, as AKIZ explains, the first part of what he calls the “Demonic Trilogy” treating “Birth”, “Love” and “Death”. One looks forward to seeing the trilogy’s part two and three hoping it will not take another 26 years to bring them to the silver screen.
Edited by Carmen Gray