Sunday, April 10, 2016

Age of Cannibals (orig. Zeit der Kannibalen) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing listing* (J. Brendemühl) review (D. Streisow) review* (G. Torinus) review*

The Hollywood Reporter (B. van Hoeij) review

Age of Cannibals (orig. Zeit der Kannibalen) [2014] [IMDb] [CEu] []* (directed by Johannes Naber [IMDb] [CEu] []*, screenplay by Stefan Weigl [IMDb] [CEu] []*) is an award winning GERMAN DRAMEDY that won both critical acclaim / awards back home that played recently at the 19th (2016) Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.
The story plays-out entirely in a couple of hotel suites somewhere on say the 10th or 12th floor of an appropriately sleek "executive hotel" in Lagos, Nigeria, it's about two high flying if often quite clueless German business consultants Frank Öllers (played by Devid Striesow [IMDb] [CEu] []*) and Kai Niederländer (played by Sebastian Blomberg [IMDb] [CEu] []*).  At behest of their firm (back in Germany) they have been "doing business" / "consulting" from their rather comfortable if necessarily _ever temporary_ perch out there on said 10th or 12th floor of said "executive hotel" in Lagos, Nigeria for a fair amount of time.

After a while, it would be fair for Viewers to ask themselves if these two were actually "in exile" out there in Nigeria (because the firm didn't really want them "at the home office" back home ;-).  Indeed, the two seem quite frustrated because while "the home office" seems to encourage them, constantly tell them how good of a job they are doing ... way out there in Nigeria ... yet, both feel that they've been repeatedly "passed-up" for being "partners" in the firm.  They get even more nervous when "the firm" seems to send a third person, Bianca März (played by Katharina Schüttler [IMDb] [CEu] []*) is sent by "the home office" out there to Nigeria to join them.  Why has _she_ come?  Not only is _she_ a woman, but she's also been "with the firm" for _so much less time than they have_.

Ah, office politics ...

But said office politics aside, what were _they_ doing there on the 10th or 12th floor of a random executive hotel in the captial of a random "developing country" with "potential?"  And more to the point, did _they_ know _what they are doing_?

One gets the sense that they didn't.  Near the beginning of the film we hear these two smiling German consultants telling an Indian manager Singh (played by Romesh Ranganathan [IMDb] []*) of some Indian firm that they are "consulting" (who incidentally had to fly out from Bangalore, India to Lagos, Nigeria to receive their "consulting wisdom") THAT THEY BELIEVED that this Indian firm should pack-up and RELOCATE in Lahore, Pakistan.  Aghast, the Indian manager asks them: "Do you believe in reincarnation?"  "In a word, no." "Well hundreds of millions of Hindus in India do.  And to many of them the greatest curse is to be reincarnated as a Pakistani."  Exaggerated perhaps but it's true that predominantly Hindu India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan have not exactly "gotten along" since the two became independent together yet separately in 1947, three wars having been fought between the countries since then, and to some extent the main thing preventing a fourth one being that _both_ countries now possess nuclear weapons and no one could really predict what would happen if the two countries went at it (openly) again.   "Perhaps, but you're going to lose-out then on a lot of money saved in lower taxes and wages..."

Ah, Capitalism über alles...

While the two smiling "consultants" blithely hand-out advice derived from crunching their figures on their spread sheets while wondering why Bianca was there now, looking over their shoulder as they do this, we hear the occasional bomb or burst of what appears to rapid arms fire going-on outside.  Are the two, er three, worried?  Not particularly one of them, has even practiced, saying that he could get his suitcase packed in less than thirty seconds if they got a phone call "from the [German] Consulate" to do so.

Yet the gravity of the situation taking place _outside_ of their 10th to 12th story perch in the "executive hotel" where they were staying out there in Lagos, Nigeria becomes clearer when, after the two had taken a meeting with another business man Vicent Akume (played by Jaymes Butler [IMDb] []*) this time "a local" from Lagos pitching some sort of a random / probably unnecessary seaside (gated) executive park, Akume's sister (played by Joana Adu-Gyamfi [IMDb]) who had attended the meeting, very professionally, and _silently_ ("a step or two behind" her brother...) giving the pitch, suddenly, when she realizes the two Germans were not impressed and the meeting was going to end as a failure, begins _to strip_ out of her quite western very business-like attire, down to her bra and underwear and starts to BEG the two German "consultants": "Please, I'll do anything, just get me out of this coutnry.  You have NO IDEA what it's like to live here or what's coming ..."

And what's coming becomes progressively clearer...

The spacing between the bombs / exchanges of gun fire becomes increasingly shorter.  One starts to hear the breaking of windows, even presumably from the "Executive Hotel" where these German consultants were staying ... And it doesn't look like this story is going to end well ...

Okay, it all makes for a quite good story, and one that could easily be played-out on a stage.  My biggest problem with the film is its title, which while _perhaps_ could be taken in a general way (Capitalism as Cannibalism ...), still feels to this American's ears to be almost shockingly (and unfortunately) racist.  I do think that a title that would have highlighted the cluelessness of the "Consultants" would have suited the work better, like "Up in the Air," "In the Clouds," or even "The Unbearable Lightness of International Commerce (or Consulting)"

I write this because I would hope that the message of this film isn't that "Africans (or 'Third World people' in general) are savages."  And yet, one gets the sense that this is at least in part the film's message and IMHO that's pretty problematic...

Sigh, otherwise a pretty good, well executed film.

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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