Blutsauger (2021)

“As a capitalist, he is only capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital. But capital has one sole driving force, the drive to valorize itself, to create surplus-value, to make its constant part, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus labour. Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the worker works is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has bought from him. If the worker consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist.” (Marx, 1990: 342)

I watched this one in my new favorite laid-back and friendly cinema, Zukunft. Two weeks ago, I watched Heikos Welt (2021) with some loud and drunk people. It doubled the joy of the film for me. The film felt like a less political and dart-fueled version of Herr Lehmann (2003), maybe because of the audience profile. Seeing Blutsauger was my second time in the same saloon, Saal 4, which has three rows and twenty-five seats. This time I thought I’d be alone watching the film, but just before it started, two people joined. Now I have a favorite seat where I can quickly go to the toilet or grab a beer in under one minute. I’ll keep going there. The person who checked the ticket gave his comments to me about the film, which was a lovely moment. It has been a long time since someone working in a cinema talked about the film to me.

I saw this one while looking for a film to go to. I was checking the films that are shown on that day. The “Marxist Vampire Comedy” part interested me; an unexpected mashup. The director Julian Radlmaier has some earlier films he directed, I haven’t seen those, but the titles are inviting: Ein Gespenst geht um in Europa (2013), Ein proletarisches Wintermärchen (2014) and Selbstkritik eines bürgerlichen Hundes (2017). I was reading some interviews, and my impression was that Marxism intellectually inspires the director, benefiting more from the theory than political action. The film also supports this impression.

The film takes place in Germany in 1928, where a so-called (ex-)”Baron” from the Soviet Republic arrives at the Baltic seaside. A factory owner, Octavia, welcomes him and invites him to her house. In an augenblick, it becomes apparent that the traveling man is no Baron but a worker trying to make his way in the film industry. His actual name is Ljowushka. He has some acting experience in early Soviet filmmakers’ films, primarily in Eisensteins’, who appears several times in the film. A film-lover candy from the film’s early scenes: the figuration actors are discussing which is the best filmmaker pitching Vertov and Eisenstein or Pudovkin and Kuleshov against each other. A follow-up to that scene might be Baron’s ‘meaning of life’ tirade focusing on the break times in a film set where a total procrastination and rest opportunity arises. I have no experience or observation of film sets. Still, I keep hearing in the actor interviews that these sometimes disturbingly long pauses and breaks are a definitive aspect of the work. I thought that it might be why they included a part about it in the film to capture a holistic labor experience.

I also don’t know much about vampire films, but I thought this one does not provide a lot of genre film treats. The first vampire film I saw might be the one we saw at the cinema with mom when I was 7 or 8. I recalled that it had Leslie Nielsen and found out it was Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). It should be a ‘meh’ b-movie, but I still remember how hard I was laughing while watching that as a kid. The next one after that might be the Interview With The Vampire (1994) that I saw during my high school years while getting to know cinema a bit more with the well-rated movies on IMDB. Other than these, the personal honorable mentions might include From Dusk till Dawn (1996), Blade (1998), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), or Penny Dreadful (2014-2016).

Even after Ljowushka’s identity is revealed, the house owner Octavia insists on him staying in the mansion. Meanwhile, the butler of the house, Jakob, also enters the story as one of the storytellers. There’s like a love affair between these three characters. They decide to shoot a film funded by Octavia which can show the qualities of Ljowushka as an actor. It’s a vampire film, maybe inspired by the recent hit Nosferatu (1922), but I don’t recall a reference to that one. Maybe I just missed it along with the hundreds of other references. While they’re shooting the film, an actual vampire appears in the town. The Marx reading group and a famous factory owner also joins the team in this surrealistic journey.

Luis Buñuel should be the first person who may come to mind during this film experience. The absurdity of the events and the extremely laid-back reactions from people helps the film not take itself seriously and build a coherent world. It heavily relies on the comedy elements, which were a lot and funny, but I’m not sure if they were enough to carry the whole film. I lost interest a couple of times during the second half.

The scene where they eat watermelon together at a picnic included in the movie poster introduced me to an interesting alternative way to share a watermelon with friends. Other things that I want to remember:

  • The scene where the butler was questioning the surplus value discussion and arguing that he’s not producing anything that might have a surplus value
  • When the reading group was asked what’s their theme, they were underlining the ‘critical’ part of the ‘Critical Marx Reading Group’
  • The love of cinema and the text/reading inside the film
  • The night when Octavia is annoyed since Ljowushka comes home late. She smokes a joint sitting on the stairs. When he enters, she returns to her room and tells him to finish the joint.
  • The dreamlike scenes with the street sign ‘Friedrichstraße’? (Not sure, that’s what I saw)

Trivia

  • “Although the movie premiered in March 2021 at the Berlin International Film Festival, in the german speaking countries Germany, Switzerland and Austria the movie was geo-blocked. Therefore there was the exceptional case that it ran on a german film festival, but neither the german press nor the german audience were able to see it at the time.” – from IMDB
  • I read in one interview that the director got into Marx during the university years and he was joining to some Marx reading groups. I like it when someone transforms this personal and collective minor experience to a cultural product. I think there are a lot of interesting things happening in the university campuses that can be translated and included in other narrative forms.
  • From Ali Karimnia’s review on Letterboxd: “Although traces of many filmmakers can be seen in Julian Radlmaier’s latest film: from Roy Anderson to Wes Andersson, from Godard to Jarmusch, etc., we are still on the side of a artwork that can well be called a filmmaker.” It’s a bit too much reference, even for me.

Ref

Marx, K. (1990). Capital Vol. 1 (B. Fowkes, Trans.). Penguin Classics. (Original work published in 1867)

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