Julian Radlmaier is a fascinating filmmaker indeed. Effortlessly unique and with a taste for the satirical, this new age avant-garde director knows how to take on weighty issues and present them in a manner that’s surprisingly entertaining. Despite being a sympathizer of communism himself, Radlmaier never shies away from commenting upon its inefficacy or the evils practised by historically renowned communists.
His first feature-length film is a carefully-structured comedy and an excellent showcase of this much-welcome ironical approach to dealing with polarizing issues that plague our society. All of his three films are all set in the same city in modern Germany, where almost all the young adults seem to have a kind of peculiar fetish for revolution and Marxism ― only to realize that their utopian dreams don’t carry much hope of ever finding a place in the modern capitalist society.
In his latest venture, Radlmaier presents us with Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog, a curiously titled metatextual exploration of his personal views on politics and filmmaking, which doubles as a satire on communist idealists.
There’s not much to the plot on paper. Julian Radlmaier, played by himself, is an up and coming radical filmmaker who is struggling to secure financing for his third project. For some reason, the narrator’s POV switches between Julian and that of a dog, as he sits outside an art museum gazing at the girls who pass by. One of the girls, Camille (Deragh Campbell), catches his fancy and he sets upon a quest to win her. But being out on welfare, he is forced to work at an apple plantation farm ― something he disguises as ‘research’ for his next film in order to impress Camille. The farm introduces us to a number of interesting characters. Among them are Hong and Sancho, two people perpetually out of luck, who have come to the farm out of desperation after being fired from their previous work.
“The problem is not communism but communists. Cause they want to give orders all the time.”
Unlike most political arthouse cinema, Radlmaier’s films never really take up one stance and keep on arguing its case. Interestingly, it is the idealists that romanticize communism who seem to become the laughing stock in his work. He tackles weighty issues like Democracy vs. Dictatorship in a light, comical vein that is actually entertaining. And he does this with a radical form of self-reflective storytelling that uses intertitles along the way to provide context or written information. Julian and Camille once remark how the people at the farm are so interesting and bizarre that it almost feels as if they are inside someone’s story ― one of the film’s many meta references to itself.
Radlmaier’s fascination with clouds continues with frequent beautifully-captured shots of the blue sky peppered with a variety of shapes, something also seen in his first film A Spectre is Haunting Europe (2012) and in the following one as well. Also in full display is his love for suprematist art, with lots of rectangular windows and doorways, squarish paintings ― again reminiscent of the black square painting seen in his debut and a very circular black hole that features in A Proletarian Winter’s Tale (2014).
The conflict between the Elitist, waxing poetic about communism and revolution, and the Proletariat, grateful for a chance to earn their living, is of key interest in this film.
The two different kinds of class-mentality are established at the very beginning; as we see Hong and Sancho expressing gratitude for the chance to work at the plantation, while Julian and his friend look down upon such work as to be beneath them. Hong admires the idea of communism as well but isn’t as privileged as Julian that he can hope to strictly adhere to its principles. Ultimately the film isn’t a criticism of communist principles either, but rather an examination of why it is impossible to implement such an idealistic social-structure in today’s world of all-pervading capitalist practices. Julian’s character himself is that of a rational communist filmmaker who seems to be rather on the side of the conformists, despite his style of filmmaking and views on politics being radical. And something tells us that this character is not very different from Radlmaier’s real-life self either.
The final act suffers from some pacing problems and can get a bit tedious ― the characters start wandering and so does the plot. But that is a minor complaint in a film where the script’s sharp wit and colourful, full-blooded characters always manage to be engaging, even when plot-progression takes a backseat. All of Radlmaier’s films contain elements of magical realism ― be it a ghost of a Russian poet in the first one or a cloud-form settling upon a woman’s head in the second. In this one, we see Radlmaier himself transforming into a dog, literally, after a Q&A session about his latest film.
The actor Zurab Rtveliashvili, who also appeared as the ghost in A Spectre is Haunting Europe (2012), is a strange talent. It is a very engrossing experience to watch this man act in his own peculiar manner, that separates him from the others in every scene. Radlmaier’s choice of background score is equally eclectic and the tunes are not easy to get rid of even after the final credits have rolled. With a distinctive accomplishment like Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog under his belt, this young German filmmaker is all set to make his unique mark in the world of cinema. His work is exactly the kind of fresh, innovative jolt that the industry needs, as do other aspiring filmmakers who would surely be encouraged to pursue more of their experimental ideas, rather than settling for safe formulas.
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When not watching films or TV series, Shaswata can usually be found either reviewing them or battling writer’s block. A student of Physics, he is also deeply passionate about literature and music. His obsession lies with framing and composition in cinema, something he explores by capturing the most memorable moments through screenshots and sharing them on social media.