Dir. Elisabeth Scharang
Starring: Johannes Krisch, Corinna Harfouch,
Birgit Minichmayr, Sarah Viktoria Frick, Paulus Manker
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Jack is a pimp and poet.
He's also a ladykiller in both the amorous and literal meanings of the word.
As such, the opening ten minutes of Jack are so shocking, scary, creepy and exhilarating - Yes! EXHILARATING! - you feel like director Elisabeth Scharang's mise-en-scène has been designed to take a two-by-four to your face, guts and privates with equal force (and a bit of sadistic glee for added sprinklings of seasoning).
In short order we see the automatically malevolent title character (the perversely sexy and almost cadaverous Johannes Krisch) and his frizzy-haired, pudgy-cheeked girlfriend (Sarah Viktoria Frick) running out of an isolated country liquor mart, which they've clearly just jacked. Slipping and sliding along snow-packed, icy ruts on the ground, then piling into their big old car, they blast down the empty, rural highway as the somewhat Missy Piggy-like lassie greedily, happily guzzles from a bottle of hootch whilst Jack looks straight ahead, puffing maniacally and oh-so stylishly on cigarette after cigarette as the propulsive drone of music blasts from the car radio.
Yes, Ms. Scharang, Madame Director Extraordinaire, we're ready for action and then some. And she does not disappoint. We get a bout of rough sex twixt Jack and Miss Piggy, followed by a sequence in which his lady love procures a beautiful, innocent and young acquaintance for Jack to abuse, terrify and eventually, murder - just for fun, mind you.
And that, I reiterate, is the first ten minutes! The film doesn't let up from there. It keeps us riveted with its strange goings-on and bizarrely achieves this with an almost cryptically choppy, but evocative structure. All the while it never gives us a moment to guess where this demented, roughly-hewn, hard-boiled virtually Jim Thompson-like tale of crime, punishment and more crime, will take us.
All you know for sure is that it's impossible to avert your eyes, no matter how strange and icky things get.
There is a bit of a flip side to the creep-fest.
We're treated to some genuinely soulful voiceover poetry with images of a deer bounding through snow and Jack being ass-fucked forcibly in a prison shower (amongst other salient and prurient snippets of his life) as we learn he's been convicted and sentenced for his crime. Spending many long years in prison he churns out oodles of great poetry, stories and his prison memoirs, corresponds with hundreds of women (all of whom send him their photos, many of then nude) and finally, after charming a beautiful literary editor (Birgit Minichmayr), he's pardoned and sprung from the hoosegow.
Here the movie turns into a strange "star is born" rise-to-the-top as Jack adorns himself like an ever-so stylish pimp daddy, becoming a successful author, crime reporter and public speaker. He's the toast of Viennese society - a dashing literary figure, feted by the intelligentsia, appearing on television in heartfelt roundtable discussions on crime, punishment and redemption and engaged in a torrid affair with a sexy, married society gal (Corinna Harfouch) whom he corresponded with on a very deep level while in prison.
A great deal of the film's success is due to the great actor Johannes Krisch whom most will remember from Götz Spielmann's harrowing crime picture Revanche. Here, though, he's dazzling - working his charm and malevolence at the drop of a hat. He's a kind of perverse cross between a sinewy Robert Mitchum as Max Cady in Cape Fear, a kind of elegant Christopher Plummer Baron Von Trapp from The Sound of Music with healthy dollops of Dan Duryea tossed in for good measure.
Krisch is the lynch-pin for the sequences in which we revel in his success and even feel empathy for a man who eventually faces the mother (Inge Maux) who took a powder on him as a child and now suckers him into a position where she absconds with a whack of his dough. While director Scharang spends an inordinate amount of energy lavishing her camera upon Krisch's sexy, manly, tattooed body and reptilian facial features and a smile like a gleaming, white-toothed vampire, she also drops hints along the way that all might NOT be right with Jack. As prostitutes are grimly dropping like flies in whatever city Jack finds himself in, the police begin to surveil him and his paranoia ramps up. So does ours. At times we're in his corner, at others, we're thinking he might be getting away with serial killings.
Things are, as per the rest of this bold, brilliant feature film, never quite what they seem, which is, as it should be. And man, the picture just plain scares the fuck out of you.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***** 5 Stars
***NOTE*** SPOILER ALERT IN WHICH I WILL NOT SPOIL ANYTHING FOR YOU! There is an element to this film which I believe Scharang has expertly avoided addressing. Subsequent to seeing the film and writing this review, I've finally read a few reviews which exposed this element. Because I normally try to watch films as fresh and virginal as possible, I was delighted with this suppressed element which is perhaps one of the most honest and pure ways of approaching the subject matter. HOWEVER, if you're NOT AWARE of this element in any way, shape or form, TRY NOT READING ANY REVIEWS BEFORE SEEING THIS FILM. So far, every single review I've read has oh-so cleverly revealed this element. Yes, once I read about it, it all came flooding back to me, BUT, I'm glad I did not have to experience the film with these ULTIMATE SPOILERS. It wouldn't have ruined the film, but it sure made it one hell of a great ride NOT KNOWING in advance.
Jack receives its North American Premiere in the TIFF Contemporary World Cinema series during TIFF 2015. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF website HERE.