At times, it seems almost absurd that I am drawn to the works of Austrian artist/filmmaker Johannes Grenzfurthner, whose work I first encountered with 2016's Traceroute though I had been at least somewhat aware of his presence prior to the e-mail that introduced me to his world.
Grenzfurthner is a creative, of this there is obviously no doubt. Yet, he's also a steadfast intellectual whose mind seems to find places within the brain that most people can't access and probably wouldn't want to access if they could because it would scare the crap out of them.
I, on the other hand, am not particularly an intellectual. I'm an emotionally transparent creative with a penchant for naked imagination and vulnerability beyond where the vast majority of people find comfort.
On the surface, it would seem, Grenzfurthner and I have little in common other than a willingness to poke the bear of a stagnant humanity and a willingness to laugh while we're doing it. Digging deeper, however, there's a common ground that really needs no description because it's understood and even if I can't always provide a coherent intellectual explanation for why I resonate so completely with Grenzfurthner's work there's simply no denying that I do and that I eagerly anticipate the arrival of his next provocative, challenging, thought-provoking, and raw project whether he's delving into nerd culture, cinema, social constructs, or wherever his mind takes him.
Razzennest is Grenzfurthner's latest project, a sort of aural horror film that means more than I possibly understood yet is still a film I completely and utterly enjoyed from beginning to end.
"Enjoyed" is such a weird word to use with a Grenzfurthner project because, quite simply, enjoyment really isn't the point. Yet, I sit here chuckling because that's precisely why I enjoy them and that's precisely why I enjoyed Razzennest.
Razzennest takes place in an Echo Park sound studio. Manus Oosthuizen (Michael Smulik), a South African enfant terrible filmmaker, has gathered with Tomatometer-approved film critic Babette Cruickshank (Sophie Kathleen Kozeluh) and key members of his own crew to record an audio commentary track for his new elegiac feature documentary entitled, you guessed it, Razzennest.
Cruickshank has obviously prepared for this venture, however, within moments it becomes clear there really is no preparing for the simultaneously engaging yet repulsive Oosthuizen.
Over the course of the film's 81-minute running time, the session goes down an entirely different path.
To call Razzennest an experimental horror flick seems somehow inadequate. It doesn't fully describe the experience that is Razzennest, a film that is initially experienced as something resembling a darkly comical horror before eventually downward spiraling into much more. Razzennest is a film where images and words seldom unite before it is time for them to do so, the film's earliest scenes dance absurdly around cinematic history yet the scenes are far from absurd. Oosthuizen embraces his directorial greatness and tires easily of those, including Cruickshank, who dare not understand him. It would be hard not to laugh at these earliest scenes, artistic incoherence disguised as as cinematic greatness and Cruickshank's own humorously awkward attempts at maintaining a level of professionalism that likely never existed. Oosthuizen and Cruickshank appear to have little in common, though in reality they are compatible bedfellows.
Both Oosthuizen and Cruickshank are caricatures. They are caricatures that we recognize so fully that I'd challenge you to not think of specific filmmakers and film critics while watching them. Ha. I'll even confess that as I sit here writing I find myself occasionally mumbling to myself "Please don't be a Babette...Please don't be a Babette."
I'm far from a brilliant film journalist, but the ego-driven faux journalism of someone like a Babette Cruickshank is my worst nightmare.
There's a certain joy that unfolds listening to these characters babble on, Babette consumed by idiotic Star Wars references while Oosthuizen takes a dump on the very filmmakers we're likely to reflect upon while listening to him. The joy, however, begins to dissipate the more we're immersed in this session and a sort of disintegration of identities begins to unfold. Left alone with nothing but themselves, both Oosthuizen and Cruickshank cling desperately to false realities and this dark comedy enters something resembling a Beckett-inspired absurdism. In case you're wondering, Beckett's absurdism isn't really that particularly absurd.
Razzennest will likely be most embraced by those who understand the cinematic history within its foundation and Grenzfurthner's own history as a creative and an intellectual. There's a philosophy at work here, a philosophy that demands attention to words and images and one that messed with my psyche like a never-ending labyrinth. The "performances," dependent almost entirely upon vocal acting, are bewildering yet mesmerizing. Michael Smulik's Oosthuizen is undeniably any number of brilliant cineastes we've embraced yet with whom we'd never want to be locked inside a sound booth. Likewise, Sophie Kathleen Kozeluh's Babette Cruickshank is a reminder that sometimes that stereotype we have of film critics is actually true. Sometimes, I want to just look at a film critic and scream "Just tell me if you f***ing enjoyed the film."
The ego is simultaneously a hilarious and frightening thing.
Razzennest features an appearance by none other than Joe Dante, one of several surprises Grenzfurthner has for us in the film. Alec Empire's original score for the film is an immersive creepster that complements the visuals without dominating them. Empire never tells us what to think or feel, a refreshing approach consistent with Grenzfurthner's own artistry. Cinematography by Florian Hofer, Philine Hofmann, and Ronald von den Sternen accomplishes much of the same as we're immersed in this world that is thoughtful, dark, funny, and immersive.
Razzennest is fresh off its world premiere at Fantastic Fest 2022's Burnt Ends Showcase, an ideal debut for what will undoubtedly be one of the year's most original and perhaps even divisive cinematic experiences on the indie fest circuit. While most certainly not for the more casual moviegoer, though I giggle at the thought of a Star Wars connoisseur watching the film, for those who prefer cinema that challenges and provokes Razzennest is a film not to be missed.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic