Herbert Achternbusch  

German film-maker, writer, comedian and painter that made many obscure, quirky and cult movies between 1970-2000. His typical approach is to start with a backdrop idea that usually involves a passive strange protagonist roaming a culture or city serving as a contrast to provoke social interactions or amusing improvised comedy. He uses this to explore and provoke a culture or social phenomenon with absurd humor. For example, he acts as a soldier from WWII transported to the present Germany, or Picasso in the modern Munich art-world, a policeman at the Bavarian Oktoberfest, Jesus come to life in a monastery, a modern German who drinks in order to forget 6 million Jews, or a Mohican in modern America. He then proceeds to improvise sketch-like scenes, odd poetic and non-sequitur dialogue, obscure puns that lead to visual jokes and absurdisms, and so on. The problem is, his humor is a closed world, understandable only to him, and mostly whimsical and pointless, resulting in scatter-shot, anarchical, comical but unfunny, unstructured movies. The dialogue is often cryptic with an alien sense of humor. With his simpler movies it sometimes works, as in his absurd existential comedy Atlantic Swimmers where people with absurd dreams and absurd meaningless lives (poetry on toilet paper) use swimming in the ocean as a symbol of breaking free. Other times, the results are quite bizarre, and often the absurdism and humor explores more surreal territory, such as in The Ghost (which resulted in a religious scandal) and other movies reviewed here.

Of Some Interest

Olympic Champion, The  
A surreal, not-quite auto-biography as only Achternbusch can make, where he focuses on his own birth, except he is the one to orchestrate it. Actually he acts as his own father, but he directs a young 'Herbert' who hovers in spirit at various times in history, choosing his parents, and who then has to do everything just to get them together and give birth to him. His father is a philandering married dentist (who uses a gun to remove teeth), and his mother an aspiring Olympic champion. Herbert decides he likes these people, but never was his own birth looking more impossible, and he even has to help his father fake suicides in order to get his mother's heart and ruin her chances at being a champion. In the background, WWII and the Holocaust are depicted in surreal ways with lines of concentration camp slaves ignored by everyone, and a Jewish couple running away, branded and literally sinking in quicksand. Contains the usual Achternbusch long monologues and eccentric humor, but this ones works much better than his other films, perhaps due to its personal nature and creativity.


Ghost, The  
Another anarchic, scattered comedy from Achternbusch that is basically a series of very odd sketches, this time on the topic of Jesus, resulting in a scandal. Herbert acts as the 42nd god of a church, who comes down from his cross to develop a relationship with the nun who lives there and to whom he has been 'married'. A church pun provides his name which just happens to mean 'waiter', so he serves as one, mainly for two policemen who make further puns and joke around until they order two drinks of shit. Which leads to another unfunny and very bizarre sketch where Jesus roams the city with two shot glasses looking for shit, and another scene of two policemen philosophizing while attempting to fill said shot-glasses, until they reach an existential dead-end. Ober-Jesus, in the meantime, is scratching his scars and is losing control over his power to turn into a snake, but his relationship blossoms with the nun who happens to have a talent for catching frogs in her virginal snatch. Other scenes include crucified frogs, Ober-Jesus making wine 'magically' appear hidden by a cheating wife, and drunk Romans discussing what makes a good crucifixion victim. Decidedly odd and unfunny humor, although it may appeal more to eccentric humor enthusiasts.

Heilt Hitler!  
In the dictionary, under 'scatter-brained' it should refer to this movie. This features Herbert Achternbusch's typical approach to making movies, which means scattered sketches, impressions, improvisations, spoofs, puns, dialogue, characters, and just plain goofing off, except this one also features surrealistic symbolism. The spoof concept is a good one, about a soldier in the German army during WWII who disappears in the middle of the Stalingrad war and re-appears 40 years later in Germany, encountering a fierce culture-clash and old closed or open wounds from the war. The implementation however... Let's just say it's as if Jack Smith filmed some random footage, and someone else spliced and dubbed over this footage with improvised and a completely whimsical narrative. Sometimes the dialogue has absolutely nothing with what we are seeing, other times it seems like someone forgot the plot, until someone remembers that they had better go back to the theme of the movie, before wandering off again after 2 minutes. The result is ultimately chaotic. In Stalingrad, the soldier wraps himself up in plaster turning himself into a war statue, there's a long scene involving fishing a dog out of the sea and measuring it, the women (and some cross-dressers) left behind during the war wave for 10 minutes at American airplanes while ranting about various odds and ends, some involving German pride and nationality, then they dress up a black man in women's clothing and mention that hair caps were good while the bombing was going on. There's a street performer, endless monologues about family and guessing games about who is whom's parent and who fought at what war, random memories and thoughts of the minute, people's faces are painted with random colors serving as makeup, there's a random murder and evisceration, random eating of a priest's feces, random mentioning of six nipples, a random pie-fight with a priest and man in a swimsuit, random Chaplin imitations, etc. This movie isn't just brainless, it is also headless, limbless and torso-less.

I Know the Way to the Hofbrauhaus  
Stop me if you heard this one...an undead curator that polishes ancient statues, and a mummy, wander the streets of Munich in search of the Egyptian queen Osiris. It's another Achternbusch improvised oddity, this one very light hearted and utterly pointless. They interact with passers-by who are constantly asking for directions to Hofbrauhaus (a brewery?), people remark about his general deadness and his funeral, he seems existentially lost, they beg for money, they walk, the mummy complains about unraveling wraps, Osiris seems to have lost one of her boots, then there's a surprise ending and a lost pocketbook. A silent comedy with Eastern music and German intertitles. A very strange one, but utterly dull.

Last Hole, The  
Most people that watch this movie comment on the theme behind this movie: That of a German man overwhelmed by the guilt of six million Jews, who tries to drink the Jews away with beer and schnapps, trying to calculate how many drinks it would take. He also seeks out all waitresses named Susn in search of his original Susn, and kills them when they get too close. Although it doesn't sound like it, and it does contain a moody protagonist, it's a comedy about the Holocaust, Achternbusch style. Trouble is this is only a small element in the movie. The rest is the usual endless improvised and cryptic Achternbusch dialogue peppered with non-sequiturs and banal nostalgic monologues often involving Bavarian culture and society, as well as some random bizarre sketches that only leave you scratching your head. There's a urinating bush that argues over putting out a fire, the characters are called names like 'The Nile' and 'Green Asshole' for no particular reason, there's a persistent waiter with noodles, tennis rackets used to uncover skulls of the dead, a ghost who leaves behind her dress, and so on. More head-scratching alien humor posing as social commentary.

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