The film commences in a dreary snowy evening in a small village in Europe; a body of a person falls off a bridge that traverses several meters above the rail tracks. The unknown person who may have died of suicide or murder is eventually covered by powdery snow leaving a lingering sense of darkness, call it noir-ish, in the film. But this is soon forgotten, only to again haunt the viewers at the film’s latter part.
The film, written and directed by Peter Payer, is an adaptation of the 1937 play “Der juengste Tag” (Judgement Day) by Austro-Hungarian playwright Odon von Horvath. However, unlike the original play, one can feel the conscious effort of the screenplay to dab the film with metaphysical queries and forced depth that are effortlessly present in the original play.
After the brief appearance of the anomalous dead body, the scenes following are as normal as normal can be. Thomas Hangdog (Frank Giering), a rail traffic engineer, begins one sunny morning collecting thistle for his wife Hanni (Corinna Harfouch) then rowing with his bestfriend Josef (Alfred Dorfer). It was a busy day at work. There is a strike so the train company decides to increase the volume of trains plying the European rail tracks. Thomas hasn’t made a single mistake in his 12 years directing rail traffic. On that busy day, however, a brief kiss with his paramour Anna (Lavinia Wilson) causes a crash that takes 22 lives, including that of his best friend, Josef who is driving a milk van.
Thomas is imprisoned but is eventually found innocent and is freed. His wife leaves him after he denies his affair with Anna. His life in disarray, Thomas and Anna become entrenched in a sexual relationship that is founded on guilt, and for Anna, although it was not too apparent, love.
The film makes use of Dostoevsky-esque treatment for guilt after a crime is committed, and for both pathetic characters, they were eaten whole by their struggles to free themselves from the thoughts of the crime. For Thomas, it is hiding himself in the dark confines of sex and his room; for Anna it is the futile erection of crucifixes on the places where the dead bodies of the victims were found.
But both succumb to this abyss, unable to recover their old selves. So one cold night, after a conversation on where their lives are heading, Anna jumped off the bridge. Thomas died of cold lying on the rail tracks.
Despite the tragic ending of the characters, I did not at all feel any empathy, nor did I feel any remorse for feeling this way. It was as if only death can possibly give these characters a respectable end and a reason for their existence in the film.
Some members of the audience might not have appreciated the genre of this film, of worse were not able to grasp the film’s meaning. To date, it was one of the worst group I’ve encountered. There were three men, who seemed to have just arrived from a Sunday sabong and discussed their escapades. They made silly comments that were too distracting. The two German women sitting beside me hushed them several times. When I finally said “Excuse me, we’re watching here!” The fattest of them responded “Bakit masama bang magsalita?”
I gave him a cold, “Yes.” Then they left. Another woman behind us was talking to her mobile.
I sometimes find it amusing when Filipinos commit faux pas, but there’s limit to it. What is the point for staying when they are after all:
Free to leave.