(Stefan Ruzowitzky, Germany, 2000)


This grimly stylish German thriller owes a great deal to Lars von Trier’s television series The Kingdom (1994).

Once again, horror is derived from a nightmarish thought that can haunt any of us at anytime. What if hospitals, far from being benevolent institutions that support us when we at our most vulnerable, were in fact corrupt and evil?

From the gruesome prologue – in which a young man wakes long enough to see himself being dissected by a team of indifferent doctors – Anatomie is devoted to what one critic called the horror of "vile bodies and bad medicine". Throw in other von Trier derived elements, such as a centuries-old secret sect, and a constant atmosphere of dread and shock is guaranteed. (So constant, in fact, that the film generated a sequel, Anatomie 2 [2003].)

What makes the film appealingly different is its determination to place an innocent but resourceful woman at the centre of this conspiracy. Paula (Franka Potente from Run Lola Run [1998]) is an idealistic medical student who worships her grandfather (a medical pioneer) and shuns her father (a suburban doctor). This choice between male figures – trickier than it first seems – repeats itself for the shy Paula when she starts feeling attracted to several colleagues.

Writer-director Stefan Ruzowitzky plots out the twists and red herrings of this tale well. Unfortunately, he pays more attention to maintaining the look of the piece – a cold expressionism of steel fixtures, cavernous rooms and operating theatre lights – than to the characterisation.

Anatomie wavers uneasily between the intense rite-of-passage drama allowed Paula and the superficial, teen movie frolics left to everyone else, especially the tiresomely over-sexed Gretchen (Anna Loos) and her parade of bed partners.

The film avoids its richest possible level – an exploration of that disquietingly thin line between the body as person and the body as meat, even though it flirts, splatter movie style, with the close conjunction of sex and death. Ruzowitzky leaves this danger zone to bravely perverse film artists like David Cronenberg (Dead Ringers [1988]) and Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut [1999]).

Like the many student pranks that fill the story, Anatomie is finally a rather facile and pointless needling of personal and social anxieties. Nonetheless, as a generic exercise, it is constructed with skill and panache.

© Adrian Martin February 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search