With 2012 Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Sadly, having yet to spawn a Marvel-style cinematic universe, Karl Marx and the nibbling types of Dracula could see unlikely movie comrades.
But the two collide like never before in a 2021 Berlinale Encounters title that also boasts one of the festival’s most eye-catching cinematic sequences.
According to Julian Radlmaier, director of the “Marxist vampire comedy” Leeches, despite all his theories on the class struggle, Germany’s most famous political philosopher (and winner of the Beard of the year 1869-1876) was not averse to dropping a bit of metaphorical vampirism in his works .
“I was actually reading Das Capital, and I noticed that he talks a lot about vampires and other gothic characters in history, ”explains the Franco-German filmmaker from Berlin.
Indeed, even before Bram Stoker’s Dracula effectively spawned the vampire industry in 1897, Marx had described how profit-driven factory owners “emerge as a form of economic vampires” in his most famous work, adding that the capitalist is a force “Vampire type” who “only lives by sucking living labor, and lives more, the more he sucks labor.”
Around the same time, Radlmaier came across a curious piece of Soviet cinema history in a biography of Sergei Eisenstein. Apparently while the director was shooting October: ten days that shook the world – famously commissioned by Stalin to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 1917 revolution – Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky fell out of favor with the Russian leader, who then ordered Eisenstein to cut his character from the film.
“But the most interesting detail I read was that the non-professional actor who played Trotsky in the film was, in real life, ‘some kind of dentist’,” he says.
So Radlmaier took this bizarre nugget of information, associated it with Marx’s penchant for bloody analogies, and crafted his story, which follows Lyovuschka, a Soviet worker and dreamer whose hopes of becoming an actor are dashed when he is edited from Eisenstein’s latest film. Fleeing the USSR to try his luck in Hollywood, our hero finds himself stranded in a glamorous German seaside resort on the Baltic Sea that just happens to be filled with bourgeois vampires. Here, while pretending to be an aristocrat himself, he triggers a romance with a young eccentric factory owner and millionaire (who, sadly, is also a vampire).
Alongside the comic plot and a deliberately awkward tone that runs through the entire film (largely thanks to Radlmaier mixing professional and non-professional actors), Leeches – which is offered at the European Film Market via ARRI Media International – brings unusual pleasure with its period setting. The story may take place in 1928, but it doesn’t take long before some glaring historical discrepancies appear on screen. At the start, we see a reading group discussing Das Capital while casually dressed in denim jeans and leather jackets, but then there are more obvious sightings: a euro banknote, a can of coke, a very modern and very shiny motorbike.
“I wanted to avoid the museum look of period pieces, which can often fail if you don’t have a lot of money to do so,” explains Radlmaier. “But I think it’s also true to the spirit of the time, because the 1920s was a time when there was a lot of enthusiasm for the future, speed and technology. So I thought it would be better, for example, to use a new motorcycle.
Corn Leeches all is not absurd and games. Despite all the wacky nature of Radlmaier’s political comedy, it still manages to contain a few contemporary political messages between the mordants.
Towards the end of the film, which – flashy motorcycles aside – takes place at a time when right-wing populism was rapidly rising in the world, we see the bourgeoisie characters resorting to what the director calls “fascist or proto- fascist”. trends in order to preserve their wealth and class status. And their primary target, as it so often remains almost a century later, is the immigrant.
Radlmaier says: “So he is moving away from a simple critique of capitalism, which I guess never really was, to instead show how minorities can be scapegoats in order to protect the economic foundations of society. the society.