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Karl Michael Vogler
A surrealistic documentary portrait of the region of Las Hurdes, a remote region of Spain where civilisation has barely developed, showing how the local peasants try to survive without even the most basic utilities and skills.
Political thriller, partly very avant-garde and nostalgic 70s
It's not quite clear when this film has been made or screened, sometimes between 1968-71. It seems it was originally made for TV but screened at international festivals with the alternate English title "Bottom".
It's very hard to find any information on this film anywhere, the only critic available seems to be a short negative German rating by a 1971 Catholic film magazine appearing on several sites on the net, often without references to the original source of this rating. However, I've found two English-language sites where they seem to be looking for copies of this German film that received Film Award in Gold for Outstanding Individual Achievement: New Director Thomas Schamoni and for Outstanding Individual Achievement: Cinematography Dietrich Lohmann.
"Ein großer, graublauer Vogel" works brilliantly on several levels:
The first level is the plot, a gripping political thriller with some sci-fi elements. It starts with a team of reporters that research on tracks and hints on a group of WWII scientists of the Axis Powers (Germany and Italy) who during the war had found the Big Theory of Everything (aka "Weltformel" in German) that allegedly had made them able to manipulate space and time in complete omnipotence, however when these scientists realized what they'd just invented they were shocked from the potential negative uses by the Fascist regimes they were living in and therefore intended to delete their minds and personalities by hypnosis, hide away in secret, with new identities, probably had their faces surgically altered. "Ein großer, graublauer Vogel" is the title of a poem which will supposedly break the spell of their hypnosis so they will remember.
The reporter team have been set on this track by a mysterious young mod character named Tom X (a bit of a stoner and womanizer Peter Fonda type). Does he really know pieces to the puzzle, or are his poetical offerings only drug-induced hallucinations?
During investigation, this first journalist team run into a second team of their likes who found out about those scientists completely independently from Tom X, and the two teams start to fight each other, each desiring to be the first group to find the scientists and make the headlines. That's when all of a sudden, organized mob gangsters appear on the scene, turning the international race into a murderous one. You don't know which side they're on, are they sent from yet other reporters? Are they sent from someone to prevent any investigations on these affairs at all? Or are they sent from a foreign dictatorship or mob lords to get hold of the scientists themselves and use their theory for evil?
The second level is a very groovy late 60s and 70s atmosphere of the whole film and the characters, for example in the today old-fashioned suits. Those gangsters are so cool (especially Lunette starring Rolf Becker) they'd make Bogey look like a hysteric. The soundtrack by the German Krautrock band The Can falls into this level ("She brings the rain"), very groovy, smooth, and cool music. Plus, as ought to be fascinating for any film and cine geek, the reporters record all of their investigations on varied formats of small gauges, audio tapes, etc., it's a big orgy of cameras, tape machines, projections, partly very 70s amateur and home movie-style.
This leads into the third level of the film being a wild, avant-garde experiment and collage of all those media clips and recordings, partly pseudo-realistic whenever the characters screen and sift their material in a seemingly chaotic multi-playing fashion, partly this material is edited into the film as if this were the only capturing devices present at the particular moment, yet still mixed pretty chaotically which blends in with the varied philosophical, mystical dialogues and uttered greedy visions of desired omnipotence concerning the potentials of the Big Theory of Everything.
Through these complex plot layers and technical collages, the film portrays both existential and mass-media induced uncertainty also present in Faßbinder's "Welt am Draht", Orson Welles's "Fake!", or modern-day "The Matrix": What is truth; what is fiction; what is real; what is reality; what is hallucinations and illusions; and are there ways of telling them all apart in this chaotic kaleidoscope of sensations?
Due to its extra-ordinary techniques, "Ein großer, graublauer Vogel" is not an everyday flick for everyone. However, film geeks, lovers of avant-garde films, fans of 70s nostalgia, conspiracy theories and spy films, or epistemology and existentialism will really enjoy this 95 minutes film.
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