There’s nothing more satisfying in cinema than a great low budget film. They’re a rarity. Often low budget films aspire to be commercial hits, which generally results in a passionless product even worse than the mainstream movies it emulates because of its lack of funds. Other times, low budget films are full of the right amount of passion, but their execution is unwatchable. Der Samurai is that extraordinarily rare breed of low budget cinema that gets it right… really right.
Germany, 2014, Till Kleinert
Jakob receives a strange elongated package at work with a note that it is to be delivered to “the Lonely Wolf”. He doesn’t open it, distracted by the insults hurled at him by his mean-spirited superior. At home, he receives a phone call asking him to take the package to a particular address. At that address, he finds a squatter, a handsome but also rather disturbed looking young man in drag (Pit Bukowski).
The ominous cross-dresser opens his package. Inside is a samurai sword. He runs from the house, kicking off a maniacal night of wanton destruction and violent carnage that forces the repressed Jakob to face his personal demons.
Though it would likely be lumped in the horror section of a video store, Der Samurai is a wild blend of genres, making it practically indefinable. It is part fantastical thriller, part homoerotic character study, part gore-fueled nightmare. It’s even rather funny at times. Its refusal to follow any kind of genre guidelines makes for a wonderfully entertaining experience.
This is one of the nicest looking independent films I’ve seen in some time. The camera doesn’t shake around like mad. The colours aren’t desaturated and dim. Director Till Kleinert and cinematographer Martin Hanslmayr have an impressive handle on the visuals. Its beautiful flowing camerawork is creative enough to make an impact but not showy enough to take away from the narrative.
Digital effects make the occasional appearance, but they are used exactly how they should be. They are featured sparingly and are there to complement practical effects and punctuate the film’s more surreal moments. Never does a composite shot distract, and there are no horrid moments of digital blood and gore (at least that I noticed).
Special credit must also be given to Conrad Oleak for a gorgeous and restrained score. Oleak’s score mostly resides in the background, but in one of the film’s best sequences, where the titular Samurai dispatches a rowdy crowd, it explodes into a synth-fused track that had me grinning. In an unexpectedly gentle moment involving a slow dance between the lead characters (yup), Oleak creates a hypnotic and oddly romantic tune to set the scene.
Low budget films can often be let down by a poor cast, but Kleinert is served well by Diercks and Bukowski. Bukowski’s performance is the more immediately impressive. He is unabashed and loony, wildly running through forests in drag or, towards the end of the film, totally naked. Diercks is every bit his equal. His role simply requires a quieter performance in comparison to Bukowski’s unhinged animalism.
I spent much of Der Samurai‘s running time terrified that it would betray its ambiguous approach and elegant style. But it never does. It remains true to itself start to finish. Der Samurai is exactly what independent film exists for. This is a film that could never be made in a studio environment — it’s too bold, too odd. Clearly this must have been a very personal project for its director-writer, and I commend Kleinert for pulling it off with such panache.
Artsploitation Films is bringing Der Samurai to DVD and blu-ray. Its release is slated for the 9th of June. Be sure to grab and copy and support this excellent film!