"Ex Drummer": The Potential Cult Movie By Tomislav Kurelec

in 36th Rotterdam International Film Festival

by Tomislav Kurelec

Ex Drummer is one of the movies that I have liked the most of more than thirty I have seen in the International Film Festival Rotterdam (including all of the Tiger Awards Competition). But it is also a very controversial film. One can find its characters too caricatured and repulsive or the movie’s anger and revolt too aggressive and exaggerated. However, I think that all the elements which may at first glimpse look strange have a deep reason in the entity of Koen Mortier’s movie, creating the specific film world, which is the level that not many authors can reach.

The story is simple and at the same time weird. Like many young men, the three protagonists of Ex Drummer try to set up a band, dreaming of becoming famous. The oddity is that they are handicapped: one is deaf, the other can’t move one hand and the third one is a rapist and a murderer. They still need a drummer so they ask a best-selling writer who once was a well-known drummer to join their group. Actually, Ex Drummer opens with a close-up of this wealthy author who is explaining that he can’t find a reason to live nor to die. In flash-backs (with the images going backwards) we get to know the other three ‘musicians’. The writer decides eventually to join them probably to find the material and themes to write about and also to break the boredom of his everyday life. The problem is that he is not handicapped, but he declares that he does not know how to play the drums anymore and this is accepted as his handicap. This is also the beginning of his manipulation. On the road to winning the festival of the new rock ‘n’ roll bands, his manipulation is more and more obvious, provoking the worst instincts of the other members of the group. It will end in a massacre which could be seen as the parody of Shakespeare’s tragedies or as a grotesque in the footsteps of Alfred Jarry’s King Ubu (Ubu roi, 1896).

In the last hundred years a lot of theatre makers and writers have concluded that the tragedy is neither possible nor convincing in modern times and that the grotesque has taken its place. Koen Mortier is one of the few filmmakers succeeding to do a similar thing in cinema. His handicapped protagonists are not only repulsive, but they are also symbols of the declining western civilization. In the same grotesque way, Mortier is able to show very convincingly how the mechanisms of the contemporary social system lead to inhuman behavior. More subtle is the study of the writer/ex-drummer’s manipulation which shows how the role of an intellectual or artist could be not only selfish but also a very dangerous one. Therefore, this wealthy bourgeois, after his excursion into the world of the lower class, looks by far the worst person in this movie, raising a question of the responsibility of an individual and especially the role of an intellectual in today’s existence.

The redundant style with lots of visual effects is a perfect one for this kind of film grotesque, showing the skills of Koen Mortier (who is a much appreciated director of commercials) being used in a very clever way to make Ex Drummer one of the most intriguing and impressive movies of the Rotterdam festival.