Berlinale Bloggers 2021
The sweet life of tenacious vampire intellectuals

“Bloodsuckers“ by Julian Radlmaier, with Daniel Hoesl, Martin Hansen, Corinna Harfouch, Alexandre Koberidze, Alexander Herbst, Lilith Stangenberg
“Bloodsuckers“ by Julian Radlmaier, with Daniel Hoesl, Martin Hansen, Corinna Harfouch, Alexandre Koberidze, Alexander Herbst, Lilith Stangenberg | Photo (detail): © faktura film

A further Berlinale jewel is the film Bloodsuckers (German title: Blutsauger) by German director Julian Radlmaier. In this new work, he continues with healthy self-irony his search for the place of the intellectual in the field of tension between capitalism and the working class.

It is 1928 and a young noblewoman (Lilith Stangenberg) is languishing at her pompous court in an unnamed Baltic country. The heiress of immeasurable riches has been abandoned by everyone except her faithful servant Jakob (Alexander Herbst). The latter is so hopelessly in love with his mistress that he allows her to drink his blood at night. However, the peace of the vampiress and her slave is suddenly disturbed by an uninvited guest: the Russian baron Lyovushka (Alexandre Koberidze), who is on the run.The latter wears a tailcoat and despises the revolution, but in the end turns out not to be an aristocrat but an impostor. He is in fact an actor, but in Soviet Russia, due to political reasons, he was prevented from playing the role of Leon Trotsky in a film by Sergei Eisenstein. As a result, Lyovushka has to flee the country just like his role model. And now he is in need of the necessary means to make it to America and, at the same time, to shoot a film that could be his calling card for Hollywood. The result in Bloodsuckers is a bizarre triangular relationship in which each side is economically dependent on the other. Meanwhile, in the adjacent fields, workers, peasants and farmers gather to read Marx's Capital out loud and show each other the strange bite marks on their necks. They explain the epidemic to themselves as an invasion of Chinese fleas – a humorous allusion to the Coronavirus. The film is bursting with jokes everywhere.

what is the ideal society?

1927, a year before the events in Bloodsuckers, saw the release of the great German film Metropolis – a contemplation on the ideal structure of a society; utopia and anti-utopia in equal measure. It stipulated that “the mediator between brain and hands must be the heart”. To this day, the role of the heart in societal issues is readily attributed to an artistic intelligentsia, but this status is as enviable as it is unenviable. After all on the one hand, the life of creative artists is more unfettered than that of the proletariat. On the other, neither the higher nor the lower classes believe in intelligence. And every time they take heart to speak out or propose something, the creative artists groan under impostor syndrome. Who gave them the right to direct others? Is one even able to sympathise with workers when one has so many privileges? And do those who are doing well really want change? Indeed, the heart, stylised as the mediator between head and hands, does at times suffer from arrhythmias. And although in his previous films, the conscientious director Julian Radlmaier still tried to give this heart an adrenaline injection, in Bloodsuckers he comes to the conclusion that the sick person can only be helped with an aspen stake.

Despite the ominous title and the vampires, the film is not ghoulish for even a second. At most, fright is evoked by the balance to be drawn: however art may rebel against social structures – society is and remains its greatest blood-drain.  And any frustration and reflection in this respect is no more than vampiristic coyness. This is why the film places irony above pathos – and why aristocrats, capitalists, directors, workers, peasants laugh fondly at themselves and each other for a whole two hours. At one point, a comical Sergei Eisenstein bursts into the picture, with the sympathetic film critics Vladimir Lyashenko and Stasya Korotkov hot on his heels.

great humour

As a costume drama, the film makes thoughtful use of historical incongruities: The characters pay in Euros in 1928 and stroll about in modern Moscow, and on their escape from Russia they do not take a romantic steamer but a luxury liner instead. The omnipresent humour allows the film to come across as very audience-oriented rather than snobbish. The jokes here are no worse than in the comedy What We Do in the Shadows by Taika Waititi. The bloodsucking aristocrats celebrate their carnivalesque life much as in Roman Polanski's parodic The Fearless Vampire Killers. One fears an infinity without feelings here no less than in Jim Jarmusch's melodrama Only Lovers Left Alive. And a barely identifiable Second World War in a toy Europe is preserved with the same sugar as in The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson. From whichever side you look at it: this is a touching and sympathetic film.
“Bloodsuckers“ by Julian Radlmaier, with Lilith Stangenberg and Alexander Herbst “Bloodsuckers“ by Julian Radlmaier, with Lilith Stangenberg and Alexander Herbst | Photo (detail): © faktura film

Fight against vampires

Moreover, Bloodsuckers is one of the few German films at this year's Berlinale to have a film distributor in Russia: the company Cineticle Films. The irony of the story is that the film is being released in Russia at the same time as the premiere of the series Kitchenblock. This, in turn, is the film adaptation of Alexei Ivanov's novel about bloodsucking creatures that have long co-existed with humans in Russia. But while a German director uses vampires to illustrate the relationship between workers and capitalism, here a Russian author argues that the question whether or not to drink blood is a primarily ideological one. In the novel and in the series, Soviet pioneers at the time of the 1980 Olympics declare war on vampires – who have always been in power and remain in power in every political constellation. Vampirism and parasitism in the kitchenblock: This is the most powerful form of commentary on social life and at the same time the common denominator for a collective of young individualists. The pioneer neckerchief has the same deterrent effect on vampires as the Christian cross, but despite this the young idealists must not let themselves be deceived about one thing: Vampirism is unspeakably contagious. No matter how often you giggle about it.