-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
copyright © 2001 - 2004 VideoVista
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
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
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
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.