I know Jörg Buttgereit from way back in the leaden days in which Berlin was still separated by ‘The Wall’, ever since I designed the poster for Nekromantik in 1987. During the Q&A’s of the festival tour of my movie Masks I was often asked why Jörg had ceased to make movies. Simultaneously, portmanteau films such as The ABCs of Death, once so popular, experienced a revival — but not in Germany, a fact that annoyed me. I thus called Jörg and suggested a collaboration. Later I met Michal Kosakowski at the Transylvanian International Film Festival where he presented his film Zero Killed. He brought a much-needed outside perspective to the project from ‘Old West Berlin’, a savoury Polish point of view akin to Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession back in 1981.
Alraune was the first section of German Angst, the primordial episode, so to say, as it harks back to the early days of German expressionism, when Germany had been the leading exporter of fantastic movies, before most talented directors left for France and later Hollywood. Alraune was filmed no less than five times between 1918 and 1930 (and remade in 1952) and thus ideally suited to help us revive the impulses of The Demonic Screen (Lotte H. Eisner) that still pervade our collective memories with their ghostly power in German Angst.
In its structure Alraune is a classic yet modern gothic tale in which we accompany Eden, an adventurous Berlin photographer with a devil-may-care attitude, along his route down an urban nightmare. Lured by the appeal of exciting femme fatale Kira, he gains admission to an exclusive party circle that uses an extract of mandrake roots as a drug to stimulate pleasure, an aphrodisiac that seems to turn erotic dreams into reality. Whoever tastes of the mandragora needs no other partner for ecstasy; its power has the source in the ego — and the ego can be monstrous.
As the myth of the lust- and death-inducing mandrake root has haunted German screens for so long — of special note are the two versions starring Brigitte Helm, both set in the feverish Berlin of the 1920s — it strongly suggested itself for a new adaptation. My (intentionally loose) free adaptation is set in modern Berlin, but emphatically not in the naturalistic city of the so-called Berlin School. On the contrary, my Berlin is suffused in strong-contrast primary colours, a city of nightmarish delirium, in which dreams and fears acquire alarming reality. I love classic narrative and genre films, especially in their most obsessive European manifestations — a cinema that is primarily felt and experienced.
Instead of CGI effects, Alraune features analogue dream sequences shot with the aid of supplementary prisms from the 1970s. I prefer analogue haziness and ambiguity to digital image sharpness and definition, and I favour blur shots — images that cannot immediately be decoded and that fuse with the viewer’s own imagination, shape-shifting forms between pleasure and horror, the ambivalence of passion and addiction.