First Things First: If you've already got the first Schramm release from Barrel, the only thing that is different about this version is the keepcase it's white instead of black. The transfer, sound mixes, liner notes and extra features are all the same.
Jorg Buttgereit remains best known for his two Nekromantik films but his (at the time of this writing, at least) last motion picture, Schramm, might just be his most accomplished work. A grim tale of a serial killer and the prostitute he loves, this isn't exactly a happy film but it is very well made and more than just a little though provoking it's also incredibly dark, and incredibly disturbing.
When we first meet Lothar Schramm (Florian Koerner von Gustorf) he's laying on his side, wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts. He's bleeding from the nose and has fallen into a puddle of white paint. As he lies there, the life draining quickly from his body, the last few days of his twisted existence pass before him. From there we learn that he was a cab driver and that he ran in the odd marathon but that he spent most of his time alone in his apartment, pining away for the woman next door, a prostitute named Marianne (Monika M. of Nekromantik 2). When a female evangelist and her male partner show up at his door to tell him about Jesus Christ, he let's them in only to slaughter them and then photograph their naked corpses in rather precarious positions.
One night, Lothar hears Monika with one of her clients and imagines himself with her, using an inflatable love doll of sorts in her place as he listens in through the air ducts. His mental state is slipping and it's slipping fast, but Monika doesn't realize this when she asks him to escort her to a job the next day. Some eccentric rich old men have hired her to dress up in front of their video camera and play servant girl for the day. She knows it's odd, but tells him that she's done far worse things for far worse paychecks. He agrees, and the next night she takes him out for dinner in return. When he tries to have a real conversation with her and tell her about a nightmare that has been haunting him, she could seem to care less and at this point he snaps again. He drugs her, he takes her home and strips her, and he photographs her only to put her back in her apartment so that when she wakes up the next day she's none the wiser. It's all downhill from here as Lothar's tenuous grip on reality finally lets go.
As grim a movie as one can imagine, Schramm is also extremely well mad and very well acted. It's minimalist in that the sets are plain and the dialogue is sparse but there's very definitely a well-structured story here as well as two fairly complex characters. Florian Koerner von Gustorf is excellent in the lead. He's not only completely suspicious looking and at times a little dirty in appearance and in action, he is never the less able to bring a fair amount of sympathy to the character. While Buttgereit doesn't ask us to pity Lothar he is a killer and a pervert after all he does portray him as very human, at least for the time being. The opening line, 'today I am dirty tomorrow I will be nothing but dirt' isn't exactly subtle in its foreshadowing. We do witness some very intimate experiences from the last few days of his life. We see him with the inflatable doll, we see him take matters into his own hands while Marianne is in his apartment and drugged and, in the film's most infamous scene, we see him drive a nail into his foreskin completely accentuating the fact that he's lost his mind and has entered a very dangerous place. Monika M. is also quite good in her part, better here than she was in Buttgereit's earlier Nekromantik 2. She plays things with considerable subtlety and she's sexy enough that we can see why Lothar likes her but not so glamorous as to exceed the character's lifestyle and personality. She handles the shallowness of the part very well, and as we get to know her we also get to know why Lothar becomes so frustrated in his relationship (or lack thereof) with her.
The cinematography is interesting in the movie in that at times it's quite fancy (the scene where Lothar imagines he and Marianne dancing together, for example) and other times it is blunt and very straight forward. It's also quite gritty looking thanks to the 16mm shooting, which adds a certain layer of grain (or, dirt) to the movie that accentuates its unclean feeling. It's not a film for everyone, it's not even a film for many, but for some Schramm will have impact and it will leave a lasting impression. Buttgereit doesn't spell everything all out for us and instead asks us to think things over for ourselves as to Lothar's worth as a person and the reasons for his descent. It's a challenging film that pulls not punches but one that will stick with the viewer for some time to come.The DVD
For a low budget movie shot on 16mm film stock, Schramm looks quite good on this DVD in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio. Colors are a little muted in appearance but this seems to be part of the film's aesthetic and it is likely intentional. There is some grain and some minor print damage present throughout but the image remains pretty clean and quite clear regardless. If the film looked much cleaner it would definitely take some of the seediness away from the experience, so it's pretty safe to say that the film looks as good as it needs to on this DVD.Sound:
You've got the choice of watching the film in it's original 2.0 Mono mix or in a remastered 2.0 Stereo track, both in German with optional (and typo free) English language subtitles provided. The quality of the audio is on par with the video it's not perfect but it's very good. The score sounds nice and clean and very clear which is important as it plays a very important part in the film. There isn't a lot of dialogue in the movie but the scenes that do feature the performers talking sound fine. There isn't a lot of range here, but there doesn't need to be. It's a minimalist track but it suits the movie well though some fluctuations on the mono track are a bit irritating, making the 2.0 Stereo mix the one to opt for.Extras:
First up, as far as the extras are concerned, is a commentary track with director Jorg Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen. The two participants speak in English and while it takes a little while to get used to the German accents, once you do you'll find that they're quite well spoken and have a lot to say about the movie. They explain where some of the ideas for the story came from, while Buttgereit talks more specifically about working with some of the actors and why they were cast in addition to what he was going for in certain scenes and why. It's an interesting discussion that anyone interested in the film will want to take the time to listen to.
A second commentary track is also included on the disc with the two stars of the film, Koerner von Gustorf and co-star Monika M.. These two have obviously got a really good working relationship with one another as they are constantly joking around and having a good time here. This makes for an enjoyable track to skim though even if it isn't as informative as the first discussion is. They do tell some interesting stories though, particularly in relation to some of the more infamous moments that are in the film.
Nicely complimenting the commentary tracks is the thirty-five minute documentary, The Making Of Schramm. This documentary is almost as strange as the feature it's examining and through some great behind the scenes footage and some very unusual interviews with Koerner von Gustorf it does a strange job of informing us about the history of the production and the shoot. It's very light compared to the movie itself, but that's probably a good thing.
Also included here are a video named Die Neue Zeit by Koerner von Gustorf's band, Mutter (which Buttgereit directed) and a clip called Mutter Boxing in which von Gustorf boxed another band member for some sort of strange publicity stunt to promote their band. Two early short films from Buttgereit, Mein Papi and Captain Berlin are also found here. The first is a compilation of clips that Jorge shot of his father while his health was starting to go before he died and it's as depressing as it sounds, while the second one is a ten-minute superhero parody where a guy in a Spider-Man mask goes off on some other guy. It doesn't make much sense but it's amusing in its absurdity.
Rounding out the extra features are trailers for the two Nekromantik films alongside trailers for Schramm and Der Todesking as well as an extensive filmography provided for Buttgereit and a still gallery of production photos, artwork and other assorted bits and pieces all set to the film's score. Look for an amusing Easter Egg in the filmography section, and chapter selection is provided for the feature film. Inside the keepcase is an insert booklet containing liner notes from David Kerekes and Jorg Buttgereit.Final Thoughts:
A dark, disturbing and at times rather pretentious arthouse-horror hybrid, Schramm is never the less a very effective film that will hit a lot of people in a lot of different ways. It won't be for all tastes, that is for certain, but those who can handle the subject matter are encouraged to give it a shot. Barrel's re-release of their earlier DVD doesn't give previous owners a reason to upgrade but those who don't already own it and are interested can once again get the definitive version on DVD. Highly recommended.