„I‘ve come to collect your son!“ Bernd is an actor at St. Pauli Theatre in Hamburg – and is living in the wrong movie. Bernd, until now only working as a side cast, was talked into acting in “The Gasman” by the theatre manager. It is a poisonous set about two SS officers that are collecting “undesirables” directly at home to destroy them on the road. His leading role is a nightmare from the start. Director Frank, so far making films is an ingenious despot who rehearses with culprit and victim separately. Bernd’s partner Mathis is a subservient careerist and Bernd did not like the play at all. No surprise that Frank and Mathis soon start to zero in on him.
Outside of the theatre live is not easy for Bernd. His ex only talks the bare minimum, the bailiff (cameo of Fassbinder partner Harry Baer!) wants his money, the few short moments with his young son are far too short; and what does he want from his five person clique (amongst others Schlingensief collaborator Dietrich Kuhlbrodt) who are meeting regularly at drinking holes in St. Pauli? Who are these smart asses? Saloon revolutionists, regular’s table fascists? Why are they at a shooting range? And why are they heading on week ends into the German winter forest?
The Hamburg director Arne Körner and his co-author Akin Sipal who together made the wonderful but culpably disregarded anti romance “The Bicycle” (2015) have made again a film eluding standard categories. Exactly this makes the film so exciting (and it is made with classical 35mm celluloid material).
“Gasman” is a political drama that discusses National Socialism as the event of German history and pretending to come to terms with the past where there is none. It is a satire of the German art and culture scene showing theatre and media as inexpensive playground of bended characters. The not that much known actors Rafael Stachowiak (Bernd), Peter Ott (Frank) and Kristof Van Boven (Mathis) who are coming from theatres are harmonising fantastically with their mutual repulsion. This is absurd theatre at its best.
Furthermore “Gasman” is a family drama giving no answer to any of the unasked questions. A Hamburg Film (Reeperbahn! Silbersack! Hafencity!) showing by chance nice weather but otherwise honestly tatty sides while the city is getting nicer the further one moves away.
A film of men bluffing and faking and every one is conned if he is thinking slower than the others can intellectualise. A tragic comic image of our times with precarious jobs (acting is one of them). A gruesome comedy that should especially people from Northern Germany screams with laughter before the laughter turns into choking; and pure poetry when the hero who isn’t one enjoys the quiet peace in the port with his new girl friend. Far away from all declamations and agitating happiness can very well be to just shut up.
Arne Körners “Gasman“ is not only original material from Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels or mischievous quotation of the film of the same title with Heinz Rühmann from 1941 but the vital proof that the subject is by far not yet history or that our leaning to violence is lurking only scantily below our half ways civilised surface as the Wehrmacht helmet is laying just centimetres below the surface soil. If you don’t know where your own pain point is, “Gasman” will show it.
Main characters in Arne Körner‘s latest film »Gasman« are a clique of rather opinionated men. At the start we can see them driving together away from everything out into the open. This way of motion is Körner’s film. It functions differently than all the valuable and very valuable and expensive but rather predictable films. It clearly shows in their characterisation. In TV and cinema productions it is common to emphasize characters as likeable or unappealing so the audience knows who is who. As Körner does not follow this road one is forced to watch more closely and develop a relationship to a character as well as the plot sequence by sequence, facet by facet. This is making the film unpredictable and in a nice way fascinating and exciting. We can see the clique’s individuals in their daily routines; working in the editorial office of a tabloid newspaper, getting job application training at the unemployment office, in affairs and relationships, without any fulfilling moment. The way the plot unfolds visually makes Körner’s film very special. This can be seen when the rather precarious living actor Bernd Tornau meets his separately living little son. This is directed in such a way that there will be no mood of any Parents – Kids kitsch will show up. In this and other takes Körner strips away layer by layer the grotesqueness and impertinence of “normal daily routines”.
Generally when showing outcasts like the members of our clique cinema makes them into incarnate protests against the money driven world or coldness or banality of our world. This isn’t different in Körner’s film only it is not about clumsy comparisons of good and bad. His group of outsiders is hard headed, very hard headed but there is nothing heroic about it. Körner’s film is breaking our expectations; it requires us to look at ourselves. This includes us into the story therewith participating in the delight of the film. This is especially applicable to the sequences covering the rehearsals of the Holocaust play “The Gasman”. When the theatre director argues with the actors (Bernd Tornau is one of them) about how to perform or entertainment qualities of a Holocaust play Körner’s film becomes a fitting absurdly comical discourse about our culture scene. Whoever considers this to be an intellectual parody is overlooking the deep sadness that overcomes Bernd Tornau in view of the state of reality.
When cinema is deadlocked and in need of fresh blood impulses generally don’t come from the centre but rather its fringes; from small independently developed films like Arne Körner’s “Gasman” a film that follows the tracks of headstrong and fantastic directors like Klaus Lemke, Roland Klick or Rudolf Thome.
When we meet Bernd in Gasman by Arne Körner – which has just had its world premiere at the 41st Cairo Film Festival – he is running through the woods, apparently away from some kind of danger that is lurking outside the frame. Then we learn that escape is actually his modus vivendi. He works in a small theatre in Hamburg, still waiting for his breakthrough performance, but when he gets an opportunity for one, he does everything he can to sabotage his chances. He is offered a role in a play about a Nazi gasman, who travels around the country with a mobile gas chamber, hunting for victims. It will be staged by a famous film director, so giving a strong performance in this experimental, but slightly pretentious, play may well jumpstart Bernd’s career.
Instead of being curious, he is passive-aggressive, and after a while, it becomes unclear whether he is a good actor or just good-looking. The trouble doesn’t end there: Bernd is divorced and can’t pay his alimony – as the clerk visiting his house observes, Bernd buys nothing but cigarettes and is doing nothing to change his financial situation. Occasionally, he gets high with his new girlfriend, who is a drifter like him, or buys himself a drink when he attends the meetings of a curious men’s club, which apparently only admits losers and failures. The gathering is led by the elderly and bitter Uli, who was part of the Hitler Youth as a child.
Bernd is an antihero – he doesn’t want to grow or succeed, and frankly, it’s difficult to understand what he wants from life, which makes him an intriguing, albeit annoying, protagonist. He is not a dreamer, and there is no sensual, Instagram-like cinematography or hip soundtrack in the background. Bernd is literally a rebel without a cause, and the bill for that kind of lifestyle is definitely on its way. It’s very refreshing to see a film about a man who just doesn’t want to venture out of his comfort zone, be a better person or relate to any other concept of self-development that gets shoved down our throats every day.
The film thrives on the great performance by Polish-born, German-bred thesp Rafael Stachowiak. He plays his character with immense inner cool and warmth – even though we can’t understand why Bernd rejects every chance he gets to attain what is generally considered a “better life”, we can still relate to and empathise with him.
Arne Körner and Akin Sipal, who previously wrote The Bicycle, have crafted an ironic tale, but one with a sad, if not depressing, undertone. The members of the men’s group they show don’t fit within the confines of German society; they’re seeking a new identity of their own, free from the World War II-tinged past, hipster culture and money-orientated society. But it seems that if you only run away from something and have no idea where you’re headed to, you truly are doomed.
Director Arne Körner also edited and produced Gasman, together with Konstantin von zur Mühlen and Uwe Zimmerman, while Martin Proth and Akin Sipal served as co-producers. The production companies involved in this German movie are Against Reality Pictures, Belvedere and Kronos Media. The world sales rights are still available.