Austrian Cinema #03: Der Knochenmann (The Bone Man)

Der KnochenmannDer Knochenmann
AUT 2009
Written by Wolf Haas, Josef Hader & Wolfgang Murnberger
Directed by Wolfgang Murnberger
Watched on 08.08.2015

“Der Knochenmann” ranks somewhere in the middle between “Komm, süßer Tod” and “Silentium” for me. Once again, Simon Brenner stumbles into the main crime story pretty much by chance/mistake/bad luck. Initially, he just travels to “Löschenkohl Inn” to collect a car for which the last leasing instalments weren’t paid. However, upon arrival, everyone is strangely evasive when he asks for the whereabouts of lessee Alexander Horvath. Ultimately, though, it proves that his disappearance is not the only – or main – suspicious thing that’s going on there, and before he knows it, he’s thrown into a complex tale of embezzlement, prostitution, and murder.

By now, many of the strengths of “Der Knochenmann” should be well-known from its predecessors. Josef Hader still is the only one that I can imagine playing Simon Brenner, perfectly capturing his dry sense of humor, his attitude and his overall worn-outness. This time, they not only give him the first love interest that worked for me – played in a very charming, down-to-earth and laid-back way by Birgit Minichmayr – but also his best antagonist (so far, back then) in Josef Bierbichler. The two of them get many great scenes that kinda reminded me of the best episodes of “Columbo” (like “Any Old Port In A Storm”), where despite the murderers actions, you could feel a sense of underlying respect and understanding between the two. Also, Bierbichler aka Löschenkohl is the first antagonist that radiated menace, and who really felt like a genuine threat for Brenner. Thus, this, in my book, is the first of the Brenner-movies that apart from being a funny crime story, also had some thriller elements, and offered a couple of truly tense scenes – and also a couple of gruesome moments. However, as is typical for this series, they’re contrasted with a considerable amount of humor, most of it – in typical Austrian fashion – quite dark. The goulash-scene is a particular standout in that regard, but there are many funny moments again that had me laughing my ass off, like the gangster in his wheelchair who can’t get up the icy street. Actually, the amateurishness is probably the one thing that ties all of them – investigator, murderer, gangster etc. – together, and is another element which sets this apart from more traditional crime fare.

There’s also a down-to-earthness and authenticity to these movies that I really adore. To just give you one example: “Der Knochenmann” features one particular sex-scene which is so totally different from what you usually see in movies. It’s not particular erotic and/or arousing, but rather captures the sometimes-not-quite-so-picturebook-ness of sex in appealingly candid fashion. Kudos also has to go out for the revelation concerning the disappearance of Alexander Horvath, which I don’t want to give away here, but which deals with a then still rather taboo issue (which, for reasons I can’t really get into without giving the twist away, people fortunately seemed to ease up on a little bit in the last couple of years) in a pleasingly sober and matter-of-factly way. On a technical level, this is another step up from the already high standard of the previous movie in the series. “Der Knochenmann” offers up a couple of nice, unique shots, and Murnberger really knows (or learned) how to amp up the tension. Thus, his direction further enhances the already very good story. The main reason why, despite all these strengths, “Der Knochemann” doesn’t quite reach the same heights for me as its ultimate predecessor, lies with the finale. As tense as the scenes in the cellar are, overall, the whole Carneval sequence went on a tad too long, losing some of its tension in the process. Furthermore, I slightly prefer the story and the themes of “Silentium” to those presented here, the ending there was a little bit stronger in my opinion, and the mood of the whole picture felt even more bleak, dark and depressing to me (which, yes, is a plus – at least in my book, and concerning the Brenner-movies). Nevertheless, “Der Knochenmann” is yet another great entry to this series, offering up a satisfying mix of crime, thriller, romance and (dark) comedy.

Finally, I’d like to point out that I already reviewed the fourth – and so far, last – Brenner movie as part of my “At the Movies 2015”-series. If you’re interested, you can find it here -> Das ewige Leben.


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