Sometimes I just can’t resist pulling out a completely embarrassing German accent. “Jahh” of course, or “Es ist zu gross/zu klein!” or even the pop song reference, “Komm, gib mir deine hand.”
Needless to say, it was with a little bit of a German language fetish that I came across Vadim Glowna’s new, moody-looking adaptation of Yasunari Kawabata’s novella The House of Sleeping Beauties. This German film guru’s acting roots date back to 1964’s TV movie Henry Hero, followed by 1971’s big-screen The Dead From the Thames. His directorial debut Desperado City won him the Camera d’Or for the best first film at Cannes in 1981.
I went into House of the Sleeping Beauties with high expectations, and was immediately confronted with cinematography, close-up shots of the pale, wrinkly protagonist Edmund, and a highly stylized 1950s murder mystery soundtrack. An enlightening monologue on death and the futility of life, shot in the stairwell of an empty subway station, dominates the film until Kogi, Edmund’s best friend in the whole world, is introduced.
Kogi is a scarf-sporting, white-bearded, tortured intellectual wannabe-cum-German Sean Connery who happens to keep a giant, galloping Pegasus statue heroically placed on the balcony of his stormy high-rise condo. When he tells Edmund to sleep next to naked sedated women in a tucked away, secret bordello on the advice that he “gave up on women as women a long time ago,” I knew, if nothing else, that this was going to be controversial.
Glowna gets right to the point, and quickly has Edmund awkwardly walking into the mysterious bordello to find a suspicious Madame who seems to be hiding something behind her strategically-placed mole. Predictably, the protagonist gets into bed with a sedated girl, but rather unpredictably, he starts shooting off lines like “You smell of milk,” after – the audience cringes – his dangling jowl curls up just enough to allow his wrinkled lips a taste of her nipple.
Even more unpredictably, he finds that the girl reminds him of his mother, and keeps going. Now this is pretty much how the plot continues; variations include the Cruella De Vil-esque Madame offering him two girls instead of one, and something about a body bag being hauled out of the house, but by this point, who cares?
If Edmund isn’t being chauffeured around in the rain in his sleek, black Mercedes to the sound of a gloomy, blatant Massive Attack knockoff, he’s contemplating his mortality in front of a reflective high-rise window, overlooking the city, smoking while shooting off self-indulgent lines like “Death comes to us only once”.
He’s constantly taking off his black trench coat and lighting cigarettes. Certainly, one of the film’s focal points is how Edmund wears and removes what seems to be an elaborate wardrobe of suspenders, dress shirts, and undershirts.
For me, the film really came together in the closing credits. All the nipple sucking, all the contemplative filler spoken over shots of nude young girls, the heavy, self-important character development, was concluded by: “Edmund played by Vadim Glowna.” Wow. He directed, wrote the screenplay, and starred in his own movie. He just hired a bordello of beautiful women to sleep as he laps his tongue all over their bodies. Man, this guy has balls, and I’ve seen them.
There is very little substance to this film, but who cares? Vadim gets to parade around town like a melting hotshot, molesting whoever he casts in supporting roles, and even showing us his very erect wundercock in a rape scene that continues to haunt my personal life. Genius.