Friday, April 07, 2023

A Pure Place

It is a parable of fascism, refracted through a cult of personality, produced in Greece, by German filmmakers. That makes perverse sense, because if anyone knows fascism and authoritarians who demand obedience, it is the Germans and the Greeks. Two siblings will be corrupted by a psychopath’s cult of cleanliness and virtue in Nikias Chryssos’s A Pure Place, which releases today on VOD.

Initially, it sounds like Irina has bought into the purity mythos of the evil Jim Jones-like Fust, but he younger brother Paul cannot help but ask awkward questions. When Fust plucks her out of the basement soap factory to replace the aging Maria as his “favorite,” Irina is supposed to leave Paul behind, but she cannot shun him altogether.

Despite his less advanced years, Paul is the more experienced sibling, because he often helps Albrich, the soap foreman, ship and sell their product. That necessarily involves leaving the villa-compound, even though the children are told exposure to the air outside can lead to death. As he becomes more skeptical, Paul grows more defiant and potentially violent.

Having the Puritanical death cult produce soap is a little too on-the-nose and in-your-face, but that is definitely how
A Pure Place rolls. It seems unlikely the Greek-German Chryssos would be totally unaware of soap-making’s horrific historical associations. Admittedly, the cult’s soap business is non-lethal, for the most part, but it summons far too real images, just for the sake of driving home his themes of outer cleanliness and inner corruption, with merciless blunt force.

Be that as it may, young Claude Heinrich is terrific as Paul, powerfully expressing the boy’s rage. However, the film presents Irina (played by Greta Bohacek) far too passively, given where her arc eventually leads. Sam Louwyck certainly looks creepy as Fust, but it is all surface level. We never feel any visceral menace emanating from him. Weirdly, the most complex performance comes from Daniel Fripan as Albrich, the cult’s despised laboring prole.

The coastal setting is spectacular and the decaying stronghold is evocative of the cult’s moral rot, but very few aspects of the film connect on an emotional level, just sometimes Heinrich, to an extent. Chryssos’s previous feature,
Der Bunker, also represented some extreme cinema, but its transgressions were grittier and more matter-of-fact, which gave it more resonance. Most of the time, A Pure Place looks and feels more like a cinematic statement than a film. Not recommended, it releases today (4/7) on VOD.