Male Hysteria On Full-Frontal Display

In Lincoln Center’s annual film buffet, a German film explores mens’ frayed nerves

Hans-Jörg is on top of a young lady and laboring. “Do they film until I come?” he has asked her.

It’s his first time at any employment like this. As the “adult” camera starts rolling, all Hans-Jörg sees before him is not the attractive young lady but the muzzle of a rifle pointed at his father’s head. Pow! The gun goes off. Hans-Jörg hops off the girl and dashes for the door. She catches up with him. “Want to talk?” she asks.

“Kids,” the blasé director dryly interjects, “I always say, leave your minds at home.”

No movie with a wrinkle like that can be all bad, and “Agnes und seine Bruder” (“Agnes and His Brothers”), which closes the 34th Lincoln Center Film Society’s “New Directors/New Films” series this weekend, isn’t bad at all. Quite the contrary. All it needs is a distributor, but it’s probably too quirky and daring for any but an unusually brave American distributor to pick up.

There are three brothers all told in writer/director Oskar Roehler’s “Agnes and His Brothers.”

One is Hans-Jörg, a compulsive lavatory Peeping Tom masturbator who keeps falling in love with women who (to put it politely) walk all over him. Another is Werner, the eldest, a smug, fat-cat politico of Germany’s environmentalist Green Party, who takes out his rage at domestic frustrations by slaughtering the hedges of his estate with a power saw. And the third is slim, beautiful, sex-changed Agnes (originally Martin), whose long page-boy tresses are now platinum blonde, now rusty redhead, now coal black, now honest brown.

What has wound up the time bomb in all three of these brothers—or two brothers and one sister—is the carnal abuse perpetrated against one or more of them by dear old, white-haired dad—intimate fondling, at the very least—when they were too small to do anything about it. But filmmaker Roehler, with his Rabelaisian anti-taste, can do something about it, making us laugh at the grotesquerie of private life and public lives, not just in Germany but all along the line.

We follow Hans-Jörg (actor Moritz Bleibtrau of “Run Lola Run”), for instance, from his spy hole in the women’s john to a group therapy session where, in a twist that Lenny Bruce would have adored—and performed—another poor soul confesses to ongoing copulation with a canine. “I don’t want to give her up, she’s all I have,” the guy whimpers. “Are you cheating on her?” he’s asked. “No? Then it’s okay.”

When Hans-Jörg finally does find and land the girl of his dreams—you’ve met her (Susan Anbeh) in the porn factory—it becomes necessary for them to run away together. Where shall they go? “To some place that’s already been hit by terrorists.” A sensible choice.

Werner the politician (Herbert Knaup) has a big blonde wife (Katja Riemann) who after 18 years has had her fill of him, and a rebellious teenage son (Tom Schilling) who takes videos of papa squatting to relieve himself. When Werner’s wife breaks the news that the marriage is over, he asks her for a quick jump in their car. She whips off her panties and unemotionally obliges him.

And Agnes (Martin Weiss)? Clad in a wedding-style white evening dress, she bucks a Berlin mob to get to the black American rock star (Lee Daniels) who was her pre-sex-change lover in New York. “Don’t you remember me?” Agnes asks. “Yes,” says the headlined visitor, “but now you’re a woman—and I’m definitely gay.”

That—predictably, I regret to say—isn’t the worst thing that’s going to happen to Agnes before she bids goodbye to Hans-Jörg with: “Ich liebe dich, little brother.” One may think of this motion picture as an exercise in scatological and burlesque house humor, or as a work of acute irreverent originality. I opt for the latter.

Among this year’s several “New Directors/New Films” entries still looking for an American distributor are two others I viewed with reasonable satisfaction: “Private,” made in Italy, by Italians, about a Palestinian family squeezed into one floor of their rather capacious two-story house by a squad of perimeter-guarding Israeli troops—“They’re more scared than we are,” says the Arab mother—and “Certi Bambini,” set in Naples, about an 11-year-old boy (finely played by Gianluca Di Gennaro) thrown into the ugly grown-up world much too soon and much too fast. Made by the twin brothers Andrea and Antonio Frazzi, the latter owes much, consciously or otherwise, to Vittorio De Sica’s shattering 1946 masterpiece, “Shoeshine.”

Lincoln Center showings of “Certi Bambini” will have concluded by the time this appears in print, but Saverio Costanza’s “Private” gets one more shot, Thursday, March 31, 8 p.m., at the Walter Reade. Screenings of “Agnes and His Brothers” screenings are 6 p.m. Saturday and 12 noon Sunday, both at the Museum of Modern Art.

If I were a distributor, I’d be there.

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