It’s hard to know what exactly you’d except from a film called Age of Cannibals. Is it some kind of B-grade horror schlock? A thriller about sadistic serial killers like Silence of the Lambs? A documentary about the link between growing old and developing a taste for succulent human flesh? The answer is, none of the above. Age of Cannibals, or in its native tongue Zeit Der Kannibalen, is about two highly paid consultants, Öllers (Devid Streisow) and Niederländer (Sebastian Blomberg) working for a mega-corporation, staying in a hotel in Uganda (where the entire film is set) and making business deals to satisfy their client’s filthy corpulent greed. While on this trip they are joined by the fiercely ambitious Bianca (Katharina Schüttler), soon things get complicated as corporate deals go awry, shady business rivalries flare up and the city they’re staying in is engulfed in civil unrest.
If the description above seems a little strange, that’s for a very good reason, it is. The whole film is very strange, and not in the good way that draws you into the narrative and makes you want to figure things out. Instead it’s the kind of strange that quickly loses you as the random plot strands and frankly bizarre tonal shifts begin to stack on top of each other. It leaves you scratching your head, wondering what it was all about and trying in vain to decipher some kind of message to take out of the confusing whole.
The director was Johannes Naber, working with a screenplay by Stefan Weigl and if an autopsy was performed on this film, the cause of death would read ‘screenplay’ in big red letters. There are many questions that result from watching, but the biggest one of all is what on earth was going through the writer’s mind as he concocted this script? The film is marketed as comedy/drama despite the fact that it’s not being particularly dramatic and most certainly is not funny. Conversation topics just fly around from one thing to another with absolutely no tonal or narrative connection, or any logical sense for that matter.
To give an example; in the space of about ten minutes the characters have gone from talking about business theory, to Indian history, to how fast one of the characters can pack his suitcase, and then to genital mutilation. Other topics that are packed within the ludicrous dialogue, just to name a few, include: capitalism, religious extremists, Buddhism, feminism, gym culture, children’s vaccinations, AIDS, oral sex, and naming city streets after the holocaust of all things.
The three leads do their best of what they’re given and occasionally even succeed in making their characters resemble human beings. The standout is Katharina Schüttler, who hasn’t been in a whole lot of non-German productions but might be worth keeping an eye out for in the future. But this is damning with faint praise. Sometimes a group of actors can work wonders even if what they’re given is sub-par, but it’s hard to see what anyone could have done to make this film work.
The film has been well received across its native Germany, so perhaps there’s a bit of cross cultural mis-translation for Australian audiences, but what we’re left with is a film that rapidly shifts between totally unconnected tones and story beats. It comes across like a bit of a mess, it’s unclear what message you’re supposed to leave with and how you’re supposed to feel.
Age of Cannibals is screening at the 2015 Audi Festival of German Films.