Schneider vs. Bax, a fight to the death
by Muriel Del Don
- LOCARNO 2015: Alex Van Warmerdam’s film, which was screened in competition at the Locarno Film Festival, tells the story of a fight to the death between nonsense and lyricism
Schneider vs. Bax [+see also:
interview: Alex van Warmerdam
film profile], by Dutch director Alex Van Warmerdam, which was screened in competition at this year’s Locarno Film Festival, is a comedy with grotesque undertones that skilfully pairs bizarre coincidence with black humour.
Schneider is a hit man, willing to do anything to get the job done. On his birthday he receives a phone call from Mertens, his ‘employer’, who gives him a new assignment. Although Schneider has promised his wife, Lucy, that he will help her to prepare his birthday dinner, he must accept the assignment. The target is Ramon Bax, a writer who lives in isolation in a house in the middle of a swamp. Bax is the standard cliché of a wretched writer: drugs and alcohol are his daily bread. In a rare moment of clarity, Bax remembers that his daughter Francisca, a depressive and at times, paranoid, girl, is due to arrive at any moment. He decides to help her by offering her drugs. And so the hunt begins.
With eight feature films under his belt, Dutch director and actor Alex Van Warmerdam throws himself into a new adventure by offering audiences a surreal and aesthetically mysterious story that is reminiscent, at times, of the purity and lyricism of western films. The setting is very different from the sprawling plains of North America, but the atmosphere that pervades the film, tense and merciless, evokes the spirit of westerns of times gone by. Dialogue is rare but to the point, and allows the magnificent shots of the swamp where Bax lives to freely wash over the screen. The swamp becomes a replacement for grassland, a fascinating and mysterious place where it’s easy to lose yourself both physically and emotionally. Indeed it is in this place, cut off and far from the chaos of the city, that the characters give free rein to their secret compulsions: the paedophilic grandfather, the depressed daughter, the alcoholic and drug addict writer, the family/hit man (with a magnificent parallel between his calm bourgeois family life and his double life as a killer) and the prostitute with a heart of gold. The wild environment seems to influence their actions, freeing their inhibitions and making them forget the role they have been given in ‘real’ life. Schneider vs. Bax brings us face to face with an imperfect and varied version of mankind that just so happens to bring together people who, in their everyday lives, would perhaps never even have met. The film is imbued with a stinging and sensual irony reminiscent of the surreal world of Kaurismäki or the illogical madness of one of Tarantino’s films. Despite the absurdity of the situation, what links the characters is a constant and apparently contradictory drive of violence and compassion, an ongoing coming and going of strong feelings, rage and apparent resignation. The final showdown leads our (anti)heroes to fight to the death in a hunt in which the prey is human beings. An unsparing portrait of the dark side of our perfect society.
Schneider vs. Bax is being sold internationally by Fortissimo Films.
(Translated from Italian)