Antibodies DVD Review
Written by Rosie Fletcher
DVD released by Tartan DVD
Written and directed by Christian Alvart
2006 R2 127 minutes, Rated 18
Wotan Wilke Möhring as Michael Martens
André Hennicke as Gabriel Engel
Norman Reedus as Polizist Schmitz
Christian von Aster as Polizist Wagner
Waltraud Witte as Frau Hering
Konstantin Graudus as Wosniak
Heinz Hoenig as Seiler
Ulrike Krumbiegel as Rosa Martens
Hauke Diekamp as Christan Martens
Jürgen Schornagel as Sucharzewski
Gudrun Ritter as Frau Sucharzewski
Laura Alberta Szalski as Sarah Martens
Klaus Zmorek as Bosowski
A naked man is painting a Christ-like image on a canvas in human blood. He runs out of “paint” and carefully drains more from a living victim, attached to an ECG in a sterile room next door to where he paints. The police arrive. The man paints a cross in blood on his face before jumping down several flights of stairs and through a widow, firing shots from a gun at the gathered police as he goes. Outside, and crawling naked on his belly through the dirt of the night-time street, he is finally apprehended.
“I’m innocent” He says, and laughs manically.
This is the high-impact, somewhat odd beginning to Antibodies, Christian Alvart’s German language thriller about a serial killer who rapes, mutilates and murders children. It’s not a fun subject to begin with, and Antibodies is not a fun film. Tense, stressful, bleak and black, Antibodies explores themes of innocence, sin and religion.
With obvious parallels to The Silence of the Lambs, Antibodies centres on the relationship between Michael Martens - part time country cop, part time farmer, family man and devout catholic, and Gabriel Engel – “the crucifix killer” - serial murderer, torturer, and paedophile. Martens is sent to interview Engel in connection with the unsolved death of a child in his village, but through their exchanges Martens’ beliefs are shaken and his view of himself and the world challenged.
Engels asks Martens, “What did you expect, Hannibal Lecter?”
But Engel is no Lecter. He’s not scary, not imposing, not charming or brilliant. And perhaps this is the idea. He’s no more powerful than Martens and he could be anyone. We expect a monster and we don’t get one, and somehow that’s worse. Both Wotan Wilke Möhring as Michael Martens and André Hennicke as Engel seem excellently cast and carry the film admirably giving subtle and uncomfortable performances which draw you in.
Throughout the film you’re encouraged to draw parallels between Engel and Martens.
“You’re good, I’m evil. Those are the roles,” Engel tells Martens early in their first conversation.
Engel and Martens are opposites, but also alter-egos (and the title, Antibodies no doubt partly refers to this idea of duality throughout the film). Martens may be a good man, but he learns that one sin can lead to another and that becoming someone terrible is easier than you think. The small village where Martens is a part-time farmer acts as alter-ego to the stinking, corrupt back streets of Berlin, too. The village may be clean and wholesome, and the city full of prostitutes and sky rises, barbed wire and brothels, but when faced with the horror of the murder of one of their own, the villagers are also prone to their own acts of violence and cruelty.
I’d recommend this film only to those with a fairly strong stomach, not for the violence or gore, of which there’s very little, but for the specifics of the crimes. Crimes of extreme violence, torture and sexual abuse directed towards children is not an area many people want to go. I’m not completely sure there’s sufficient moral justification to explore these crimes in the depth to which Antibodies does. This is a controversy that often surrounds extreme cinema and why people choose to watch it - Antibodies certainly doesn’t stand alone as a film willing to present horrific things as a form of entertainment. Here, at least, the unpleasantness and cruelty is discussed with a certain level of sophistication and style. While Antibodies is not without humour, it’s of the blackest kind (Martens’ son is instructed to write “it’s indecent to show my penis” 500 times in a notebook as a punishment for flashing a school mate).
There’s a strong religious thread running through the film, which raised questions about Old Testament vs. New Testament justice, the nature of sin, and uncomfortable ideas about the innocence of children. At times depiction of the Marten’s inner conflict felt rather heavy-handed (particularly the broken remote, switching between porn and a religious ceremony repeatedly in Martens’ hotel room) and ultimately the religious angle became rather sentimental, although most of the film was discursive and ambiguous enough to remain interesting. I also felt unconvinced by how much or how quickly Martens is influenced by Engel – Martens didn’t strike me as weak-willed enough or Engel as persuasive enough for such a rapid switch in behaviour.
Antibodies has a rather strange ending which may not appeal to everyone. While I don’t think Alvart made the bravest choice in this decision, at the time of watching the film I have to admit to being rather relieved that it went in this direction rather than somewhere far nastier. Emotionally tiring and tough to watch, Antibodies is a good film that I’d suggest you approach with caution.
Video and Audio:
Shots of Berlin are dark and grimy, inside the cell is blue lit and cold, shots of the village are full of warm tones and wide landscapes – all look clean and sharp with bright, true colours.
No problem with the sound, as far as I’m concerned (although I don’t speak German, so wouldn’t be able to identify any lack of clarity in hearing the dialogue). The subtitles seem pretty well translated although I did wonder if they meant “wanker” when they said “jerk-off” repeatedly.
Some B roll footage – short but interesting
Interviews with the director and two leads – also interesting and addresses issues with the similarity to The Silence of the Lambs. Well worth a watch.