Der Samurai is an impressive film outta Germany that just had its stateside debut at Tribeca. It’s a genre mixer that maintains a pliable tone throughout, allowing for all of its various elements to work together: from B-movie schlock to refined psychological horror. I think a lot of different interpretations are going to be reached about the film, which is one of the reasons it’s so damn exciting.
Jakob is a timid policeman in a rural German town where he’s disrespected by the locals and his fellow officers alike. When he’s not on the beat, he enjoys making model houses and playing cards with his grandmother. Sweet boy, this Jakob. His main task on the force appears to be handling a wolf that has been terrorizing the locals. Jakob’s strategy involves leaving bags of raw meat in the woods in hopes of keep the wolf at bay. That right there says a lot about how Jakob handles things: he’d rather repress than eliminate.
The element of the unseen wolf lurking in the woods gives the beginning of Der Samurai a fairy tale vibe, with the forest being set up as a dangerous place to wander – especially at night, when most of the film takes place. Writer-director Till Kleinert’s film goes in a far more bold direction than most will expect though. There’s something else creeping in the woods around this quiet town. And it’s interested in more than rummaging through the trash.
After dutifully hanging more bags of meat, Jakob receives a package addressed to the “Lone Wolf.” Then, through leaps of logic, Jakob locates the package’s true owner – a lithe man wearing a long white dress. There’s a magnetic and dangerous feel about this guy. He’s got these impossibly feral eyes and talks to Jakob like he knows him. Jakob seems drawn to him, until the man removes a shiny katana from the box and takes off on a hack-and-slash spree through the streets of town.
From their initial encounter, there’s a homoerotic sensation between Jakob and the samurai. The queer undertones of the film are definitely undisguised. Der Samurai is a very violent movie about struggling with one’s sexuality. The ending and a lot of the prior sequences will be interpreted in different ways, I’m certain, but to me Kleinert is saying something about repressed sexual feelings and allowing them to consume yourself.
Or maybe he just wanted to make a film about a transvestite who decapitates a buncha people with a phallic symbol.
The humor in Der Samurai is really subtle and helps to lighten up the dark tone. There are also fairly silly and eccentric moments, like when the samurai takes on a biker gang. These scenes see-saw the film’s tone between violently melancholic and comedic, but never allow it to dip too far into either territory. The climax is anything but subtle and ends things on a playful note that’s relieving after such a dark film.
Without spoiling anything, I will say that Jakob’s final action did confuse me. It’s as if the film is suggesting that we destroy part of ourselves to reach our full potential, but if that’s the case it makes the overall message puzzling. Here I feel that Der Samurai stumbles over its metaphors a bit.
This is Kleinert’s first effort out of film school and was made with partial funding from Indiegogo for something like $15,000. There’s no doubt that every penny of that is on screen. His certainty as a director is really strong this early in the game, so it’ll be interesting to see what he puts out next. Der Samurai is probably going to polarize viewers, but horror fans hungry for something refreshing and inspired will not want to sleep on this one.