The year is 1928. It’s a sunny Tuesday on a blazing August afternoon. The German countryside is busy recovering from a post-war recession. The stock market is steadily increasing at a formidable opening. The working class are continuously exhausted and extorted of their energy and resources. Oh, and did I mention that the imperialists of the area are blood-thirsty vampires? In Julian Radlmaier’s genre-bending marxist comedy Bloodsuckers, the renowned Communist-centric director tackles a different form of social commentary. Divided into three unique chapters detailing three uniquely different perspectives from the point of view of the central cast, Bloodsuckers evolves from humble satire to riveting commentary in an abundance of various thematically biting scenes.
If anything, Radlmaier has perfected his signature pastiche in a film that mixes 21st century props and artefacts with a delightful period aesthetic. The culmination of a century worth of historical dissonance adds a certain level of quirk and subtle thematic instability to the atmosphere centered around the film’s social critique. In particular, the first chapter of Bloodsuckers opens on a promising note. The film’s mixture of sight gags and punchy dialogue infused with a good amount of satirical socialite snootiness is frequently entertaining. On top of everything, name drops of famous historical figures are expected, with the occasional ounce of humorous comedic timing.
As advertised, Bloodsuckers is relentless. Maybe even a little too exhausting for its own good. There comes a point in Bloodsuckers where the film gradually becomes a work of pseudo self-indulgent snobbery. Maybe in due part with the poor pacing featured in the latter two chapters and the chosen assembly of certain events within the film’s timeline, Radlmaier’s vision loses steam quite quickly. The sharp political conversations this time around come off as less endearing, to the point where it detracts any of the charming impact and satirical undertones that the dialogue previously carried. In a film where every narrative plot beat is essential to the climactic buildup and payoff, the sluggish pace undercuts the deeper semantics below the surface.
But if there’s any major take away from Bloodsuckers is the nuanced finale. Where for the majority of the runtime, Radlmaier portrays his subjects in a far more playful and adolescent perspective — the final minutes of his cathartic vampire fable adds appropriate meaning behind his allegory on the rise of fascism. Briefly hinted in occasional scenes amongst some of the more bourgeoisie characters — including but not limited to a very staggering image of a person in a Ku Klux Klan gown partying amongst other socialites — Radlmaier makes direct comparisons on how the spread of negligence and selfishness fuels self-gained interest amongst imperialists, and nonsensical hate towards the working class population. A hate that is ignited by lies and hysteria, that results in tragedy and death. For a film that’s mostly consistently comedic and light-hearted in its social politics, Radlmaier manages to pull a daring political statement that is equally relevant today, as it was in the late 1920’s.
In a film both featuring vampires, obnoxious parrots and even the brief appearance of Russian director Sergei Eisenstein, it’s difficult to not at the very least enjoy the vapidness surrounding Bloodsuckers’ gleefully silly premise. Drastically dragged by the greatness of its opening chapter and concluding finale, Radlmaier still manages to make due with his humorous clash of styles and period aesthetics amongst the occasional pacing hiccups. For what its worth, Bloodsuckers is a hopeful sign that vampirism in contemporary cinema is far from being blood-dry. As long as filmmakers such as Julian Radlmaier continue to reinvent the wheel, the evolution of the modern horror-comedy will continue to thrive once again.
Dir: Julian Radlmaier
Runtime: 127 minutes
Bloodsuckers premiered at this year’s 71st Berlinale as part of the Encounters program. The film is currently seeking international distribution.