Rohtenburg (English title: Grimm Love). 2010. Directed by Martin Weisz. Screenplay by T.S. Faull.
Starring Thomas Kretschmann, Keri Russell, Thomas Huber, Rainier Meissner, Pascal Andres, Axel Wedekind, Tatjana Clasing, Horst D. Scheel, & Nils Dommning.
Senator Entertainment Company/Atlantic Streamline.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
To preface my review, I’ll start with the real story.
In the early 2000s, Armin Meiwes went looking in the dark corners of the internet, eventually finding The Cannibal Cafe, a site for people with a fetish for cannibalism. Meiwes posted an add to find a man willing to be slaughtered then eaten. Bernd Jürgen Armando Brandes responded to the ad and the two met on March 9th, 2001 in Rotenburg where Meiwes lived. When they met, Brandes got drunk and took pills in order to dull the pain. They started by cutting of Brandes’ penis, frying it with wine, garlic, salt, and pepper, before trying to eat it. The dick was too chewy, so after frying it too much Meiwes tossed it to the dog. After Brandes couldn’t eat any of his own penis, having lost too much blood, Meiwes went about hanging him like a deer, draining his blood, quartering and chopping the human meat. He was only later found out because of going back online, looking for more meat, and ultimately getting reported. The cops found more Brandes meat in the freezer stored away for future use.
Grimm Love is a fictionalization of the story, concerning two men so lonely they seek out the ultimate way of both consuming someone and also being consumed, each man with their own compulsion. The framing narrative is that of a graduate student doing her thesis on the two men and the wild case. This is not a perfect film. Although it dares to be different, to tackle something altogether inhuman and violent and transgressive, to look at a story many might not wish to undertake. At its heart, the film is an intense character study that involves a heinous crime, one of the most heinous to have ever been committed, and the horror of a psychological depth to which two men plunge in a quest to connect with another person, even if it means doing the unthinkable. Grimm Love is about how some people can love another person despite the rotten core existing within them.
The tragic element of the film is what compels me most. Through the framing narrative of Katie (Keri Russell) and her thesis we’re able to look into the lives of Oliver Hartwin (Thomas Kretschmann) and Simon Grombeck (Thomas Huber). Horror is on display, no doubt. The main focus is a character study on these two men who eventually collide with one another on their path towards finding a true partner, the one thing which they’ve missed so long, a permanent bond and unbreakable relationship.
First, Oliver is shown in great detail, as a young boy who grew into a man domineered constantly and brutally by his mother. The influence of her dangerously powerful love (“Never leave me alone, Oliver. Ever. We‘re all we have.”) keeps him shackled to a familial pattern of love, one to which he can’t relate as he grows, his interests widen, to the point a lust in him awakens and something ugly rears its head. Because of such a long time suppressed, Oliver then breaks out into psychopathy. The repression of his needs and his inner desires manifest into an altogether monstrous appetite. The loneliness he feels is due to his mother, connecting him so firmly to her in an unhealthy manner. After she’s gone, he needs to find someone to replace her, but also he only knows one way to love: consume the person you love, the object of your affection. It’s what his mother did, so it becomes the only thing he knows and the only way in which he understands how to love another person.
This brings us to Simon, whose lifelong search for a lover who will, effectively, consume him. Part of this is due to urges he feels are unnatural. Part of it is born of self-hatred, depression, the will to die. Yet that loneliness drives him, and even in death when he discovers Oliver he finds a way to be loved, to be consumed by his lover, and to truly find that two becomes one type feeling with another human being. His devotion is ultimate. Sick and loyal alike, too willing to give himself over to another person wholly.
Grimm Love has a thick air of atmosphere throughout, built on nice cinematography that captures everything in shadows. The overall look of the film is gritty: the interiors darkened and gloomy, lit low, colours saturated and mute; the exteriors vibrant, sweeping. Particularly once things move forward plot-wise, the tone of the movie keeps grim, as the camera consistently draws us to the eeriness of the story. Scenes where we see Oliver and Simon respectively at their computer screens, a heavenly glow cast up over their faces, you can almost see the bare joy which they get out of the internet right in those brief shots.
There’s a nice separation of time periods within the film’s appearance. Each one has a different colour palette, each feeling slightly different from the others. When we’re focused on Oliver there’s a sepia-like visual aesthetic, a nearly foggy blanket over the frame. In his youth, the lens is almost greasy in sepia toned scenes. Simon’s scenes are more slick, they have dark but vibrant colouring and they’re clear, almost painfully so to illustrate how deeply he feels everything, how emotionally present he is, as opposed to Oliver whose feeling is one of repression, of being closed off and shut to the world in a fog drenched trance. For the scenes with Katie, the aesthetic is between the two – dark, moody, richly shot. This is what allows for a continuity amongst all the jumping to and from events, from past into the present. Otherwise, without a continual aesthetic divided into sections director Martin Weisz risked losing people. He still did, but not for any fault of his own. The visuals make this horrific tale more compelling than if it were shot in a bland, flair-less style.
I feel this is a 4-star film. It has huge dramatic, tragic elements in the screenplay. Of course the horror is evident, even only in the basic description of the fact this film is based on a true crime case. What makes everything so intense are the performances. Thomas Kretschmann and Thomas Huber each make their characters come alive, to the point of being wildly uncomfortable. There are scenes where some actors might either fall into overly melodramatic spectacle. Instead, both Kretschmann and Huber stay subtle, they crawl under your skin and make these equally disturbed men into painful portraits of lonely humans. There is so much to enjoy out of their performances. Huber in particular is a powerhouse in his role, often drawing out your pity with the slightest ease.
In the end, you’ll be disturbed to the bone. If you have any humanity inside your heart. Grimm Love attempts to show us the human roots of the real case of Meiwes, through a fictional representation of both him and his victim. This is an impossible mind frame to discover in oneself, so a movie such as this tries taking us inside these sort of terrifying emotions and headspaces while remaining neutral. Nobody’s saying you have to feel bad for either of these characters, not at all. What the film tries to say is that even the biggest monsters once began as human beings. It’s that somewhere along the line humanity becomes monstrosity, even out of something as simple as loneliness. There’s no telling to what deep abyss the human heart can go, and will if the world and the people nearby let it.