SCHMITKE || 2014, Czech Republic / Germany || Mystery || Directed by – Stepan Altrichter / Written by – Stepan Altrichter, Jan Fusek, Tomas Koncinsky / Produced by – Mark Oliver Dreher, Martin Ludwig, Radim Prochazka, Susann Schmik, Jorg Trentmann, Tomas Vach / Music by – Johannes Repka / Cinematography by – Cristian Pirjol / Editing by – Andrea Schumacher, Philipp Wenning / Production design – Nadine Schmidt / Starring – Peter Kurth, Johann Jurgens, Helena Dvorakova / Running time: 94 mins.
Schmitke takes its title from the name of its leading character, a middle aged German wind turbine engineer on the verge of a midlife crisis around whom the narrative of the film develops. One day, he is dispatched to a rural part of the Czech Republic and there he falls into a nightmarish situation – surrealism and mysterious in a setting inhabited by hostile and shifty situation.
The distinctive sinister charge of the film’s location, the enveloping Czech woods, add plenty of atmospheric charge to a film that is as darkly humorous as it is creepy and unpredictable. It is by all means an impressive directorial debut by Stepan Altricher, aided by a great leading turn by German actor Peter Kurth, who is gloriously awkward and quiet, like a true fish out of water.
True, the film is most impressive in its first part before its energy gradually becomes exhausted. By two thirds of the way, the film seems to have totally run out of steam, perhaps itself as lost as its leading character, struggling to build up to a meaningful conclusion. Though the thematic focus of the film, which draws much of its inspiration from cultural contrast – in this case between the rural Czech one and the more urban German one – remains constant, the same cannot be said about the actual narrative, which runs around in circles and finally tangles quite irrepairibly.
Schmitke is at its best when it is also at its darkest. Particularly in its first part, shortly after the Germans enter the rural Czech town, the film welcomes a bizarre aura with open arms, frequently flirting with surrealism. It is also worth pointing out that the Altrichter’s film is constantly able to provoke a viewer’s interest and attention with its constant descent into darker territories, eventually ditching most of its campier side. This, along with an overall fundamental creativity, is also what makes Schmitke, for the most part, entertaining. – 3/5