Writing for Film Threat has opened my world to the broad spectrum of film and storytelling that I would never have sought out on my own. That said, I was not prepared for Michael Bartlett’s surrealist fantasy feature, The Berlin Bride. Yet, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the extreme quirkiness of the storytelling style, which is very new to me.
First, the film is inspired by the silent films of old with only a tiny handful of dialogue. Second, writer/director Bartlett’s narrative finds inspiration in Edgar Allan Poe and German fantasist E.T.A Hoffmann. Third, its visual style reminds me of European cinema of the 1960s and 70s. I was constantly reminded of the old Pippi Longstocking movies.
The plot alone is reason enough to see The Berlin Bride. It opens in a mannequin factory and focuses on a “missing persons” poster as one of its mannequins is missing. Trashman (Miklos Königer), on this particular afternoon, is assigned to pick up trash at the park currently occupied by nude sunbathers. I have so much to say about the park scenes, but it’s all irrelevant.
When Trashman sees a blind gentleman eating his lunch on a park bench, he notices a pair of mannequin legs sticking out from the bushes. Sneaking around the blind man, Trashman finds the missing mannequin with its right arm nowhere to be found. The mannequin reminds Trashman of his late wife, and he decides to buy it a dress from Dress Shop Owner (Henry Akina) and take it home. While at home, Trashman pretends the mannequin is his wife, and the two go on a date, and slowly Trashman’s desperation and loneliness blurs the line of reality and fantasy.
“…Trashman pretends the mannequin is his wife, and the two go on a date…”
Then there’s the Dress Shop Owner who is missing his right arm. While heading home, he stumbles upon the missing right arm. Just for fun, he decides to slide the mannequin arm up into his empty shirt sleeve, and magically the arm… female arm… comes to life, and Dress Shop Owner feels like a whole person. But, the arm seems to have a life of its own.
You’d now think the Trashman and Dress Shop Owner have found what they needed in their lives. Returning to the dress shop, Trashman sees Dress Shop Owner’s feminine right hand and realizes the Drees Shop Owner has the missing mannequin piece. However, obsession soon takes over as we now enter Poe’s territory.
The fun of The Berlin Bride is Bartlett’s storytelling and how he effectively tells the plot within his visual style. The filmmaker communicates both emotion and backstory without the need for a single line of dialogue. I’d say he does it better than the silent films that inspired his tale. He also blurs the line between reality and fantasy so seamlessly that both protagonists react to the blurring differently. Not only did Bartlett come up with an incredible “gimmick” with the mannequin, but he exploits it with great intentionality for the sake of the story. There’s nothing lazy about the storytelling.
The crazy path the plot takes, in the end, is just icing on the cake to a great idea and speaks to our obsessions to fill the missing pieces in our lives and the lengths we’ll go to be complete once again. If you’re going to do crazy, be smart about it, and that’s the joy of this production.
If crazy, quirky, or surreal is not your cup of tea, you’ll probably want to pass on this title. However, if those words appeal to you or you want to try something new, The Berlin Bride is definitely worth checking out.
"…nothing lazy about the storytelling."