And we were surprised.
If not pleasantly, we were surprised nonetheless to find out that Der Todesking is a work of art, fashioned with care by a man who has something profound to communicate on the unavoidable subject of death and mortality.
Buttgereit’s reputation and past filmography would lead you to believe that Der Todesking is nothing more than a shameless exercise in morbid exploitation. With the two controversial Nekromantik films under his belt, no one could have foreseen that Der Todesking would be as provocative and intellectually satisfying as it is.
What we have in Der Todesking is an anthology film of sorts. The film unfolds in seven segments - “Monday” through “Sunday” - in which we peek into the pathetic and desperate lives of several individuals as they are faced with death, by way of senseless murder and suicide. Each segment unfolds in a matter-of-fact, emotionally detached fashion. We know nothing of these characters beforehand. We are witnesses to their collective demise and nothing more.
In between - and sometimes interrupting - each segment, we see a body gradually decomposing. Buttgereit never lets us forget the death that is at the heart of the film. We aren’t allowed any comic relief - no escape from the desperation. The two segments which bookend the film are definitely the most potent, but nothing here should be dismissed. Der Todesking holds a power which few films can claim, and once you are in its grasp, you’ll stay there until the credits roll - maybe even long after.
This is not a film for the faint of heart, by any means. You should definitely approach this piece with caution - however, if you are willing to take the plunge, you will find that it is rewarding in many respects.
The Blu-ray that Cult Epics has released is a pristine collectors edition, complete with a glossy slipcover, several special features, and a special postcard. Film buffs and lovers of underground cinema should definitely check it out.