Rating: (5 out of 5)
Sunday, 10/19/2003, 12:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Cecile Goldman Theater at the DCJCC
German with English subtitles
KAI S. PIECK’S extraordinary — and extraordinarily dark and disturbing — drama isn’t for everyone. But those who brave this stark, unremitting dramatization of child molester and murderer Jurgen Bartsch will find themselves transfixed, transported and, quite possibly, transformed.
Based in part on the letters and statements of Bartsch, The Child I Never Was is a gripping, sophisticated piece of filmmaking, one suffused with unease, dread and genuine horror. And yet, though the subject matter is at times shocking and appalling, Pieck never allows the work to devolve into gratuitousness.
The film’s fractured timeline takes a little getting used to, as does the decision to cast Jurgen with two actors.
Disarmingly fresh-faced yet moody Sebastian Urzendowsky takes control of the dramatized scenes, while Tobias Schenke masterfully chills to the bone as the incarcerated Jurgen, who narrates the tale, as though giving confession, to a video camera.
All the touchstones pointing to psychological unhingement are on the surface in Bartsch’s unhappy upbringing: cold, distant parents who demand that the teenager follow a ridiculously strict regiment (one that includes being hand-scrubbed nightly by his mother); an encounter with a sexually abusive priest; and finally an unstoppable attraction to younger boys. “They had to be at least eight and no older than fourteen,” says Jurgen, dispassionately describing his prey. “To me, a real man was no sex object.”
The movie explores Jurgen’s obsession with eyes wide open — and you have to admire the courage of its conviction as it plunges you into the mind of this ferocious killer. “You can’t stop yourself,” Jurgen says of his spree (four schoolboys were victims of the adolescent Jorgen in the late 1960s). Later he adds, “It’s unbelievable about how unlucky these kids were.” Pieck has no sympathy for his protagonist, but nor does he turn him into a monstrous icon of sinister cinema. If anything, this is an unapologetic portrait of a disturbed man whose homosexuality took a sociopathic wrong turn.
“If I loved someone,” Jorgen laments, “that’d be better than finding the perfect victim.”
Most film festivals have refused to show The Child I Never Was because of the subject matter. They’ve missed the point entirely of this unsettling motion picture. So I applaud Reel Affirmations for programming it. However, they could have given it a better time-slot than Sunday at noon. It’s worth canceling whatever plans you might have to see this remarkably dense, revelatory masterpiece that will cling to your psyche like nothing else you’ve ever experienced.