Johann Heinrich Fuessli, "Der Nachtmar" painting

On the Event of Tina’s Phantasmagorical 18th Birthday: “Der Nachtmar” (Film Review)


Der Nachtmar, 88 mins. Directed by Akiz.

The most magical films to watch are those which are most attuned to the creative process: When one experiences a film like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for example, one is keenly aware of a resonance – a psychological harmonizing – between one’s experience as a person watching the film and the fact of the film’s story in itself – we are not separate from the story – it is part of ourselves.

A myth is a universally significant story because its content is both larger than life and immediate, direct, and personal. When a film utilizes this type of internal, dreamlike logic, it taps into something as universal as it is surreal, and bypasses our mundane expectations of cause and effect to unfold its story using the full associative power of the human mind: as an engine for the creation and processing of symbols and ideas. Every creative person (which is every person – we are hard-wired this way), whatever their chosen medium or media of expression, must familiarize themselves with the internal machinery of their creativity in order to create, so it is only natural that the most compelling creative expressions are those which most closely represent the creative process in action.

(A note to the subtitle-averse: Der Nachtmar is more reliant on imagery and sound than on dialogue – you don’t need to speak the language to travel in this strange land.)

Similar to The Apartment, Roman Polanski’s psychological exercise in identity and constructed reality, Der Nachtmar is at its best when it returns to itself, recursively building a story that the viewer cannot unravel or decode along a strictly linear trajectory – in fact, this recursion begins with the film’s title sequence, when the words “Der Nachtmar” appear as though they are a physical object which fades into the background within the world of the story (see trailer, above.)

Tina (Carolyn Genzkow), on the event of her 18th birthday and en route to a party in her honour, is shown a photo that her friend took in class of a misshapen fetus. When the same friend takes a picture of Tina and morphs the two images together, Tina’s response is negative: “delete that right now,” she says. It is an important moment, introducing the viewer to the film’s two central characters and establishing a pivotal visual link between them.

Johann Heinrich Fuessli,

Johann Heinrich Fuessli, “Der Nachtmar” painting

On the surface, the story follows Tina through a strange coming of age experience that one might mistakenly assume has something to do with youth culture and aliens (and the E.T. figurine on her bedside table seems not only to anticipate the latter association but to allude to a subsequent scene which reads as a visual citation of the Spielberg film), but as a psychological allegory, Tina’s experience is an altogether different sort of initiation more familiar to fans of David Lynch: the journey she takes within this contemporary frame is a surreal, dissociative Impressionist rendering of the mind that appropriates electronic music (the film’s score is deftly handled by none other than Atari Teenage Riot’s Alec Empire) as a cinematic technique and quotes William Blake via Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) to illustrate its ambition. Suffice to say, sensory overload simultaneously distances the viewer from events onscreen while facilitating a form of transference that places one’s mind and perceptions in the same space as the characters, which suggests that the real story is happening in the viewer’s mind rather than onscreen.

Tina (Carolyn Genzkow)

Tina (Carolyn Genzkow)

As reviews go, this one won’t tell you what exactly sculptor and first-time director Akiz’s film is about, because it’s not that kind of film; but Albert Hoffman was less successful in describing his first LSD trip than he was in synthesizing LSD for others to experience its effects.

Highly recommended.


Der Nachtmar’s second screening at Vancouver International Film Festival is Oct. 9 at Rio Theatre. Details here.