Director Hans-Jurgen Syberberg examines the rise and fall of the Third Reich in this brooding seven-hour masterpiece, which incorporates puppetry, rear-screen projection, and a Wagnerian ... See full summary »
Syberberg's preoccupations are to do with the intellectual and cultural traditions of Germany and the German intellectual and cultural response to the Second World War, and if that sounds interesting, or if you are interested in the revolutionary thinking that was happening in the world at the end of the sixties, and the aftermath, then San Domingo should be of interest.
San Domingo is about a young hippie called König who is the son of a super-rich couple, but has dropped out. He seems to be working in botanical gardens and then he goes out into the countryside and ends up on a biker / hippie / anarchist commune. The bikers convince a young woman called Carla to throw herself at him and preoccupy his time whilst they ask his parents for a large ransom without ever technically kidnapping him. König has a fixation with Africa as some sort of ideal land, although he has never been there. His love for Africa is like the painter Rousseau's, influenced by picture books and botanical gardens, the reality of things like famine (this film was shot at the end of the Nigerian famine and beginning of the Ethiopian one) and civil wars or wars of independence and their associated atrocities hardly impinge on his consciousness. Relatedly part of Carla's allure may be her black skin, although as König is naive and inexperienced, and she is extremely worldly, experienced and throwing herself at him, not much extra allure is needed. König's name is ironic (German for king), he has a kind of long aristocratic 17th century haircut and he very much has the Antoinette-ish "let them eat cake" deal going on: he sits in with Carla when she interviews with a personnel manager and argues about employment, trying to make the case that people should be able to do whatever they want, and that jobs should be created to manage for this.
Syberberg's reputation has taken a shoeing because I think he believes in a lot of the cultural values that others believe led to the rise of Nazism in Germany. I think other intellectuals felt that he was also self-aggrandising. That's all a bit quagmirish for me, I generally believe that political correctness has harmful aspects sometimes intensely harmful, but I don't know if characterising the reaction to his output as politically correct is fair, though initially it seems so. In any case San Domingo is some pretty nuanced stuff that leaves room for your own opinion. Syberberg was dismayed by the German intellectual response to the war, and I guess the youth response of doing or believing the exact opposite of their parents. So the movie reminded me of Gas-s-s-s from Roger Corman a bit in that it often is exposing that young hippie-ish folks have some aspects of their thinking that are 100% idiotic. However I think all the young folk in the movie have been let down in one way or the other, so I think there's balance and humanism. There's two old women in the movie that are an interesting contrast, one who won't give König and Carla a room unless they're married, and another who seems like a maid/cleaner/mother figure who let's everyone get on with what they are doing and seems to revel in their youth. I kinda had an image in my head of Dali's Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War) when thinking about the creator of the movie, as if he had two different heartfelt responses to what was going on, that he couldn't really blame the youth for their new ideas, but he didn't agree that they were sensible, and on the other hand that for youth, revelling in ideas is an end in itself. So there's sort of a conflicted Pasolini-an agony in this work.
The film is a very loose adaptation of Kleist's Betrothal in St. Domingo, though it never felt anything other than fresh and modern. Much if not most of the film appears completely improvised, with the actors being non professionals (excepting König) and playing under their real names.
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