Lieber Kurt

Lieber Kurt

ZFF 2022 #30

The absolute fucking state of this – genuinely one of the worst things I've ever laid eyes on, I think. A cautionary tale about a fundamentally incompetent filmmaker who has so much money and power that not only have people stopped telling him no; he has also been doing this for long enough that his ineptitude has now developed into something of a personal style, which he can dress up in outwardly professional-looking production values.

The result of this latter phenomenon is that a movie like Lieber Kurt can go on for minutes at a time without drawing too much explicit attention to the fact that shot by shot, edit by edit, it just doesn't hold together. But then, every other scene or so, there's another shot that makes so little sense by any metric – like characters standing in blinding backlight for no discernible stylistic or thematic reason at all – that you realise how dire the filmmaking truly is: the needlessly impractical blocking, the strings of shots that lack any visual coherence, the way everything is colourgraded to death, the redundant editing.

Count how many times this movie cuts to a close-up of a trivial action – say, the latching of a garden gate – that makes you wrongly think that detail is important, utterly interrupting the flow of a scene. Note how often the foley sound, such as Kurt Sr.'s knees hitting the ground or his and Jana's heads going "bump" when they embrace, undercuts the dramatic intention of a moment. (That said, adding a "whoosh" sound to someone flipping someone else the bird for comedic effect is also terrible.) Try to watch Kurt Jr.'s death scene – the emotional crux of the entire movie – without cracking up at the non-establishment of the stakes (how far up the monkey bars is Kurt?), the awkward slow-motion introduction of a random, hitherto unknown character to serve as the audience's point of view, the non-committal depiction of the fatal moment itself (hands slipping off a metal bar, which does not follow from what we last saw of Kurt), or the melodramatic flourish of punctuating the scene with a falling broom (in slow motion, of course). Pointing these flaws out may seem like nitpicking, but those are the bread-and-butter things that you should be able to do when you're helming a project of this size. Making the death of a six-year-old child unintentionally hilarious is next-level hackery.

As for the content, what even is there to say. The script contains material for at most 65 minutes, but is stretched to an interminable 135-minute slog that appears to consist mostly of (slow-motion) montages that could easily double as bank/insurance/beer/home-decorating store commercials, and scene upon scene stating outright that Til Schw– I mean, Kurt is the best at everything he does (examples include sex, being a dad, writing copy, playing cards, driving a car, bar fights, and grieving). The kid, whose death jumpstarts the whole affair, is written as a cloying, obnoxiously precocious angel who also happens to be the Mickey Mouse Magazine's jokes page in human form. The grief the protagonists go through is as trite a treatment as you can imagine, made even worse by the movie's wild tonal swerves between dour drama and broad comedy, which, I assume, are meant to illustrate the inconstancy of the grieving process – but which, not least thanks to the poor filmmaking, just lead to a bunch of baffling sequences (the Austrian assholes who show up towards the end are a notable example, but my favourite is the extended comedy sketch dropped in after the sombre, poetry-quoting finale).

In the abiding words of Greil Marcus: what is this shit?

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