Director: Hanno Nehring (Germany). Year of Release: 2022
At the beginning of the film, instead of the usual 15 minutes of adverts there’s just silence. Nothing on the screen, no lights dimmed, nothing. Then after about 10 minutes, a man bounds to the front. He introduces himself as Hanno Nehring – the director of this no-budget film. He claims that it cost €15,000 to make, but you find it hard to see where all that money went. Nehing than goes on at length about how he doesn’t like to talk much before a film starts.
Hanno Nehring is so genial that you start wanting to love the film. This is a one-off showing in the biggest screen of the cinema. There is room for hundreds of people but there are maybe 10 of us her tonight. I’m not sure how many of the others were also there because they’ve got a yearly ticket and have run out of films that they want to watch and haven’t seen already (it’s not been a tremendous week for film).
Although this is a very German production – filmed on location in Bavaria with German actors – for some reason, they all speak in English with German subtitles. The film opens with credits informing us of a fairly recent medical discovery that Hitler actually was monoorchid – the credits helpfully inform us that this means that he had only one testicle.
The cameras move to real life coverage of a Querdenker rally. How to describe the Querdenkers? Well, they are a strange conglomeration of anti-Vaxxers, esoteric hippies and outright Nazis. We hear a speaker telling the sparse crowd that you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to be worried that the founder of Microsoft, a man – he says ominously – who has no medical qualifications, is allowed to mainstream German television to spout liberal claptrap.
This group of Querdenkers appear to be more on the hippie side of things – they’re playing Let the Sunshine In from Hair for God’s sake – but the voiceover speculates about the 1930s and wonders how long it will take the next monoorchid megalomaniac to take over. There is some fertile soil here for a serious film. The sense of helplessness and mistrust of the government’s Covid policy permeated German society, and Nazi groups really did try to take advantage of this.
But A-Man and the C-City has no intention of being a serious film, and is playing this entirely for laughs, even when the laughs are hard to come by. It is set in a Munich that appears to be entirely deserted. All the shops are closed and the streets are empty apart for a man and a younger woman. It’s not clear whether they are relatives or lovers – it turns out that she is both his niece and his girlfriend.
The plot, such as it is, consists of them joining a neo-Nazi cell. There are some vilely racist speeches about refugees and how Merkel failed the country by allowing them in. I presume that we are not supposed to take this seriously because the gang is so obviously stupid, but the film is billed as a parody. Are we supposed to find it funny? When a visual pun compares mask wearers with women in hijabs, is this laughing at or with racist ideas?
The A-man (we can guess what the A is short for) also has one testicle, and is played in a manically overacted style that seems to be intentional. The film revels in its low budget, though it is hard to tell whether these are truly bad actors, or are very good actors who are able to convey a sense of incompetence. In a way it’s a moot point as the effect on the audience is the same.
I haven’t got to the appearance of God – in fact two different possible Gods, one of whom tries to prove his godliness by showing his bum. Nor of the A-man’s attempt to further his girlfriend Beate’s career as an opera singer, despite her lack of obvious talent. Nor his attempt to shoot a container full of refugees dead live on camera, which is thwarted by his inability to start the camera. There are a lot of half-ideas here, but none is looked at with any intellectual curiosity.
And here’s the problem. Satires tend to only work if they treat their subject seriously. And yet Nehring’s approach seems to be to portray Nazis as incompetent fools and hope that they will go away. I think that the threat is too real for this to be a serious option. This is not just a political comment, but an artistic one. There is no tension, and no effective humour. For me, at least, the comedy just didn’t work.
Now I know that comedy, maybe more than any other art form, is a subjective thing. And I’m not sure exactly what my criticism is. Yes, it’s dumb, but so are the Three Stooges and Bill and Ted, and I find both hilarious. Even though tonight’s showing had few laughs, I’m sure that there’s an audience for this. I hesitate to bring up the dread phrase “German humour” as you can’t reduce a whole country to the stereotype of humourlessnes. But sometimes the cap seems to fit.