Review first published by Grolsch FilmWorks
“Everybody knows everybody. Everybody making sure no-one steps out of line. Did you never want to leave?”
Just passing through in the evening on her way to the Eastern border, a free-spirited, spliff-smoking driver (Kaja Blachnik) is giving young, uptight local policeman Jakob Wolski (Michel Diercks) a lift into his village in the backwoods of Germany, and cannot comprehend how he could stand to stay there. “Good luck, Lonely Wolf,” she says as he gets out. This puzzles Jakob, as it is a name that he has encountered earlier that day.
There is in fact a real wolf prowling around the village, and Jakob has raised local eyebrows by adopting a ‘strategy’ of leaving meat out for it on the town’s margins rather than hunting and killing it. “I just keep it away from the houses,” he explains, even as his concerned chief Horvath (Uwe Preuss) points out that feeding a wolf can only lead to trouble. Indeed, with this wolf has come another wild outsider, designated as ‘Lonely Wolf’ on a parcel mysteriously sent to the police station care of Jakob. Delivering the parcel on the outskirts of town, Jakob realises that he has handed over a sharp-bladed katana to a stranger in a white dress (the sneering, sultry Pit Bukowski) who is hell-bent on making mischief. As Jakob shadows this cross-dressing creature over one long, dark night, trying to minimise any damage that might be caused to the community, he finds himself both repelled and mesmerised by a figure who is everything he himself is not – but might just like to be. Repressing this Lonely Wolf – and his rampage through town – will prove too much for the weak-willed Jakob.
A queer retelling of the werewolf myth, The Samurai reveals the dark side of a character who comes out in the light of the full moon wearing women’s clothing rather than an animal’s skin. Creating chaos when introduced to a small-town location, and cutting a bloody swathe through prejudice and conservative conformity with vengeful glee, this ‘lonely wolf’ represents both a desire and a rage that, once unleashed, no small-minded community – or conflicted cop – can forever keep at bay.
Of course the forest setting, the wolf and the prominence of a grandmother (Ulrike Hanke-Haensch) evoke the tropes of a fairytale, while both the lycanthropic antagonist and his samurai sword give the narrative a guise of genre – but really this is a contemporary psychodrama on the violent clash between one man’s concerns to keep up external appearances and his carefully buried yearnings to dance freely to his own tune. Combining stifling parochialism with surreal escapism, writer/director Till Kleinert grounds brutally unhinged flights of fancy in an aching sadness that never rings false. Even if you can see through the fantasy to the closeted reality early on, the emotional honesty (and forest-black humour) of The Samurai will ensure you want to stay.