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Nightshade (1972)

Nachtschatten (original title)
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Complete credited cast:
Elke Haltaufderheide ...
Elena Berg (as Elke Hart)
Jan Eckmann
Max Krügel ...
Ella Timmermann ...


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Release Date:

28 November 1972 (West Germany)  »

Also Known As:

Nightshade  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Strange and somewhat haunting
3 October 2013 | by (The Divided States of Earth) – See all my reviews

An interesting homage to 'Vampyr' that pretty successfully recreates the Dreyer classic's otherworldly lethargic mood as well as the peculiarity of its dialogues and their delivery but to achieve all this it adopts a glacial pace that almost makes 'Vampyr' look like it's on speed in comparison, combined with its paper-thin plot and carefully enough staged but very minimal mise-en-scène that doesn't exactly dazzle the senses this ought to be the death blow to this quiet two-character piece, but I found its strangeness compelling enough to actually make this surprisingly easy viewing for me.

Like 'Vampyr' it begins with a man arriving at a house to find the front door locked so he walks around the house to enter from a different side. Inside he meets a woman. Plotwise the similarities largely end here apart from a couple of incidental moments and locations. The man has come to purchase the house but the woman keeps avoiding the subject and doesn't want to name a price, she generally seems absent-minded (to put it mildly) so the guy quite naturally keeps hanging around in the house for days and he gradually finds out sinister things about her husband who is nowhere in sight. Or is he? 'Nachtschatten' is a mood piece through and through built on the motifs of "Todessehnsucht", "Liebestod" (sorry, translating those words just seems wrong to me) and all that good Gothic stuff with a strong emphasis on the (German) Romanticism part of it, but almost without any use of its symbolism, a brief but crucial "gravestone dream" being the major exception. Instead it looks more like a Heimatfilm, or rather like the shadow of one, like, if this is a Heimatfilm then it's one that died decades ago and now its ghost flickers on a TV screen at 3am inside a dream.

As technically competently made as it is in its own way the film suffers from a lack of ideas, I found its narrative as empty as its mise-en-scène and even the little substance/narrative it has is certainly at the end of the film blatantly spelled out but it really is more than just alluded to again and again throughout the whole film. Like I said, mood and strangeness is king, this is no twisty horror, it's easy to figure out the whole thing in the first 10 minutes and the rest of the film one watches the characters catching up with you. And that IS a problem, what is a film like this worth if there is absolutely nothing mysterious left? It's not that the scenario actually makes logical sense but the background story does and I just feel it would have profited from being more puzzling rather than having the viewer be ahead of the characters throughout much of the film.

It also has a very sparse but I think carefully put together sound design and music is used seldom in the first half and more frequently in the second half. I think it's noteworthy that this piece of music (it always uses the same one again and again) sounds a lot like the 'Mulholland Drive' theme. You know, this soft droning that is sinister, melancholic, sad, and a few other things all at once. It doesn't fail to be effective. I also should mention that while, like I said, far from visually dazzling, it has a, to me, appealing and appropriately odd desaturated 16mm look.

Maybe the complexity actually is all there and it just failed to resonate much with me. Maybe it resonates more with stand-alone widows who when their husband passed away died a little (or a lot) themselves. So I guess I recommend 'Nachtschatten' to lonely, morbid widows, most other viewers should probably stick to 'Vampyr'.

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