Jun 26, 2019


On the audio commentary included on its Blu-ray release by Artsploitation Films, producer Linus de Paoli paraphrases a former film teacher when he says that every film has to leave at least some questions unanswered, for if every possible curiosity the audience held for a certain film were satisfied, it would make that film forgettable. Nothing about that film would linger in the audience's mind. Such a philosophy has fully informed the construct of Der Samurai, which presents a lot of questions and provides very little answers. And boy, audiences do not like this -- especially the mainstream -- and Der Samurai is as far away as one can get from mainstream before traditional narrative is left behind entirely.

Der Samurai has been described as a black comedy, or a Lynchian mind-twister replete with bouts of dark humor. The first is fully incorrect, and the second is pushing it, but closer to the truth. For once you get over the fact that, yeah, you're watching what's clearly a man (or a man-shaped being) walk around in a formal dress and kill random people with a samurai sword, all while not-so-subtly trying to convince poor Jakob (Michel Diercks) to desire him, there's not that much humor to be found. A moment or two allows some levity - the scene in which Jakob violently assaults a lawn ornament flamingo is beyond surreal and kind of comes out of nowhere - but Der Samurai appears to be playing its outlandish concept very straight. And a certain understated beauty comes out of that. Or it could very well be what was intended as humor gets lost in the utter madness unfolding before you, leaving you ready to accept that this slice of oddness over here isn't meant to be more or less funny than all the other oddness surrounding it.

Jakob, awkward in his own skin, is an outcast. He doesn't maintain any groups of friends and lives with his grandmother (his parents are deceased). And the fact that he's a police officer doesn't earn him even a modicum of respect from his community or superiors. He's lonely, and likely wrestling with the fact that he is homosexual (though this is never flat-out admitted). His comfort in the presence of girls, in any way other than his role as server/protector of the people, is lacking. He sadly dreams of making a cavalier move on a pretty girl nice enough to give him a ride...but it's all in his head - a quick and stolen daydream; in actuality, he's staring out her car window, unaware of what to say or how to act.

In the same way that Tom Hanks made audiences cry over a volley ball, or Bruce Campbell wrangled tears by playing an elderly dying Elvis mortally wounded by a mummy, Der Samurai is adept at triggering a surprising melancholy reaction despite all its surrounding insanity. The Samurai, who is never named anything beyond that (and who is never actually called that during the film), makes his appearance in an ominous fashion, immediately gaining the distrust of the audience. But throughout the one long dark night over which Der Samurai's events unfold, the dynamic between our two lead characters begins to slowly change. The Samurai begins to embody many different things to the tortured Jakob: first, an antagonist; then, a leery friend; finally, a subject of sexual desire -- all before turning back around to becoming his antagonist again, only it's of a different sort: not of the sword-wielding psychopath, but of Jakob's refusal to admit who he is.

What may come off sounding like pretension is actually quite the opposite. Heavy themes aside, Der Samurai is wicked fun, strikingly directed, boasts an extremely brave performance from Pit Bukowski as The Samurai (see the film and you'll know why), and yeah, it does manage some mileage from some pretty dark gags. Seeing a man in a woman's dress taking off heads with a samurai sword is something that would likely never get old -- but lucky us, we get that along with an engaging story, likable characters, and even a tug at the 'ol heartstrings. It just may be the most unorthodox romance in the history of cinema.

Please see Der Samurai. There's no promise that you'll love it, or like it, or even understand it, but films that possess such an individuality and which circumvent typical cinematic machinations need to be supported to encourage other filmmakers to make more of them. Der Samurai offers something that films very rarely offer: the chance to experience something as graphic, thrilling, and mystifying as it is touching -- all while chopping off heads.

Der Samurai us available on Blu-ray from Artsploitation Films.

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