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Tattoo
cast: August Diehl, Christian Redl, Nadeshda Brennicke, Johan Levsen, and Fatih Cevikkollu

writer and director: Robert Schwentke

98 minutes (18) 2002 widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to rent or buy on video

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Marc Schrader (August Diehl) is one of 200 police graduates looking at two places and neither doubting nor caring that his skills in Electronic Digital Profiling will suffice in a successful application when a requisition is put forward for him by Chief Inspector Minks (Christian Redl), the very detective in charge of a raid on an illegal rave the night before at which Marc had been an e-taking clubber and where the closest of run-ins had near occurred. C.I. Minks recognised him, all right, and possesses evidence of Schrader's ecstasy popping, yet still wants Marc working alongside him, a fact that is clearly initially puzzling to the younger officer. The immediate case of the girl with the flayed backed who, in a stricken state, trotted out in front of a bus that crashed into a second vehicle killing her outright. Her charred corpse turns Schrader's stomach but he identifies a bifurcated tongue for a practice among modern primitives and Minks is justified in his human resources exercise. The employ of the sub-cultural Schrader for his insight into current social trends is primarily because Minks' daughter Marie (Jasmin Schwiers) is missing in the scene and the Chief Inspector believes he can press Schrader into locating her from within. Schrader does set the interior search engine in motion, seemingly having to go no further than to ask his DJ girlfriend Meldem (Ilknur Bahadir) to come up trumps.
   An examination of the flaying victim's apartment reveals that she was heavily tattooed and it is shortly thereafter realised that tattooed youths are being slaughtered for the work of an artist named Hiromitsu who specialised in a form called Irezumi, popular in the past among the yakuza. The serial killer is tracked down but the story does not end there. The investigators learn that Hiromitsu has been dead for several years and the only known 11 pieces of work are on people who are dead or have disappeared. These were no ordinary serial killings, these were the result of an order book among specialist collectors, who when they cannot persuade and pay the screwed-up human canvases to part with these masterpieces turn a blind eye to the extreme manner of the work's appropriation. The finder's fee rising from 60,000 to 180,000 dm as the catalogued Hiromitsu artwork is ticked off the trail leads to Frank Schoubya (Johan Leysen), a dealer, from who is cajoled the secret of private auctions where the high-end prices for the same pieces can be �2 million. During the investigation they meet Maya Kroner (Nadeshda Brennicke), a friend of first victim Lynn Wilson, and the former girlfriend of Hiromitsu. She is decorated with an unknown of masterpiece by the artiste, very well hidden under a dress that goes see-through in the rain. I have behaved myself until this point but now you sense I might begin to poke fun.
   Tattoo is an entertaining film but is riddled with the unbelievable. It is smoothly and moodily shot by Jan Hinter with each frame carefully established and travelling, the colour down, the environments sterile and clean, too much so. Minks' apartment is spare and dust settles nowhere not even in the estates on which the serial killer lives, though this is not unusual in German film.
   Worldview on film is unreal but a line of credibility must be drawn somewhere, either that or the film must move more crazily, faster or better dressed to compensate it, as exampled respectively in Se7en and Crimson Rivers. The theme of tattoo collecting is surprisingly new for a feature film plot but the perversity in the action is topped in a single scene in, say, Gestapo's Last Orgy, in which the despicable camp commandant's take a beautiful ink job and use it as a pretty lampshade. For a film that boasts modern primitivism, flaying, perverse collecting and a serial killer, there is surely scope for more resounding audacity than this. Director Robert Schwentke is a California-educated filmmaker who returned to Germany to take up a writing job on the Sunday television crime series, Tatort. The paradigms and lean delivery of old Hollywood are what he brought back with him. The content of Tattoo is the casually expectant evening crime viewing that we in England have gone beyond, and though I am not one to normally recommend this, especially when someone is ready to deliver the horror material straight, because that is how I prefer it, but this film might have benefited from a heavier dose of black comedy. As you view it drums up aspects and arguments that the film could have found time, darkly comedic speculations over the blurring and fading of colours of older tattoos and the urgency to pre-empt it now, for example.
   In the disc's accompanying interview with writer-director Schwentke he tells how Germany is still in the rut that England could be observed to be in back in 1994 when money was only available for worthy projects, that local commercial cinema produce was a no go in the theatres. He adds that with Tattoo he had "sailed in on the last wave of enthusiasm." Tattoo is too steady; by that I would have liked it retain the stable camerawork but to have upped the ante on edgy content. A complete synopsis would suggest that this film is full in terms of plotting and incident, but the result has a small-time feel to it, though that is more perhaps because of the quantity of grim detective serials regularly produced over the last decade for American and British television. It would get away with it if not for the time allowed to the viewer to acknowledge that unsatisfactory aspect in the film. A bumbled trap for the collector only leaves you with multiples of the inexplicable and a comedown on pursuit and fate of Porscher, another young cop killed at the scene. The film is seriously in need of a boost with the end so near.
   Minks, a veteran Chief Inspector should have a better general knowledge than he does, and not require the incumbent graduate to tell him about the underground scene, and the pathologist too was slow off the mark in not recognising the bifurcation (the fact that I spotted it immediately while the pathologist in the film determined it cut in two in the accident, doesn't make me a forensic pathologist and the movie version less so). Robert Schwentke recounts his research methods but a lot more could have been put into it, and Schwentke boasts the resources to take him on several very special fact-finding missions. The tidiness of the story presentation overrules it as a busier film that you might otherwise like to revisit. One of the Hiromitsu tattoos, seen in photographs, the victim dug out of the garden, is clearly not Japanese, but of Polynesian influence or something similarly exotic and clearly a case of casting convenience, black drench tribal tattoos more common than an Irezumi. That is particularly annoying given that the director employed three tattoo artists to create many and most of the tattoos, including a gallery full of skins (faked onto sections of goat skin that closely resembles that of a human when specially treated). The tattoos are the most realistic fakes ever seen on film for that reason, so why freak cast the wrong kind to make up the numbers. On the casting front, Monika Bleibtreu is a most unlikely Kommissarin, clearly a popular German actress putting in an unwise cameo.
   Martin Todsharow supplies an appropriately threatening score. Schwentke's next film should be The Last Voyage Of The Demeter that, as an English-language gothic horror in a more lavishly escapist setting, may suit his trundling approach better. It is something mildly worth looking forward to.
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