Originally entitled and better known in Europa as Lebenspornografie (2003) aka Life Pornography, Dutch enfant terrible auteur Edwin Brienen (Last Performance, Revision - Apocalypse II) recently retitled the work Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusions for its first time American release, thereupon sparking my interest in re-watching the film after my initial viewing of the subversive cinematic effort about a year ago. Undoubtedly, one of the most interesting and profilic, if not oftentimes derivative, auteur filmmakers working today in both the Netherlands and the European continent as a whole, Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusionsmakes for one of his most ambitious, audacious, and arresting early cinematic efforts. While the original title of the film is certainly more provocative and seductive, if not partially misleading, Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusions makes for a more straightforward and quite literal description. The film follows a troupe of decidedly demoralized Amsterdam-based actors/artists as they move to Berlin, Germany to star in an erotic show and simultaneously attempt to reboot their fading careers and find love in a forsaken quest of a fool’s paradise. The second feature-length work following Terrorama! (2001) directed by Edwin Brienen – dubbed “the Dutch Fassinder” due to his direction of 14 feature films in a mere decade, as well his intrinsic and imperative influence by the German New Wave König – Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusions, like the director’s previous work, is almost nauseatingly nihilistic and unpleasantly pornographic; featuring patent aesthetic and thematic extremes that the audacious auteur cracks up to making sure he would not bore the audience. If the Last Performance (2006) was Brienen’s cinematic equivalent to Fassbinder's In a Year of Thirteen Moons (1978), Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusions is the Dutch auteur filmmaker’s version of his film hero's semi-autobiographical flick Beware of a Holy Whore (1971) a work that similarly follows a bunch of perverted actors as they plummet into their particular personal purgatory while the degeneration of their art parallels this daunting deluge into oblivion. If it says anything, Edwin Brienen claims, like all of his films, he has yet to watchBerlin Nights: The Grand Delusions since its initial release, which one can only speculate that his cinematic works are artistic rituals of sorts where the damned director exorcises his demons in uncommonly delightful yet demoniacal celluloid form.
Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusions most specifically centers around emotionally ravaged Romy (named after German actress Romy Schneider; one of Brienen’s favorite actresses) played by Eva Dorrepaal (Brienen’s equivalent to Fassbinder's Dietrich-like diva “Ingrid Caven”), a down-and-out actress who would be happy to get a role in a Tampax commercial. Beginning with the confrontational and decidedly butch character Claire (played by Esther Eva Verkaaik) opening the film, denigrating the audience for two minutes or so with her vehement and venomous verbal spew and with repellant images of sardonic scatology and putrid pornography, including an appearance from French “GG Allin” and noted noise musician Jean-Louis Costes who also contributed to the soundtrack (with the majority of the striking synth-driven score being composed by Le Syndicat Electronique) for Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusions and is probably best known in the film world for his infamous head-crushing appearance in Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible (2002), one knows what they are in store for before the title "Lebenspornografie" even appears. Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusions also features a scrawny and sentimental leather-fag named Jim (played by Onno Meijer who has since died of a heart attack); a heartbroken homo who cannot get over the fact that he broke up with the love of his life because he was HIV positive. Undoubtedly, the most deplorable character is Berlin night club owner Thorwald (Peter Post) and his wanton wife; a hideous husband and wife duo whose dual propensity to annoy the audience is next to none. The Virgin Mary (played by celebrated "Dutch diva" Marjol Flore) also makes an appearance, but she is no match for the film's lost souls, who are so consumed with strife, self-loathing, and hedonistic self-destruction and who are always naughty and never nice. Needless to say, Edwin Brienen was not lying when he once stated that he was trying to positively provoke the audience with his first films, as Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusions is essentially a work of anarchic aesthetic terrorism disguised as a loony libertine melodrama, not that hysterical and haunting histrionics doesn't help to guide this coarsely carnal cinematic work. During the beginning of the film, cunt Claire states, “Art is a statement. It’s important that art provokes. And that’s necessary,” which is a sentiment with which I basically agree, but if a film’s sole objective is to provoke, it is not much more provocative than a crackhead screaming at the top of his lungs while exposing his shriveled, crab-ridden genitals on a busy freeway. Luckily, Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusions is not just notable for its distinct debasing essence, as Brienen is even able to making fisting and sexual violence an aesthetically pleasing experience.
Featuring a cameo that was originally intended for In a Year of Thirteen Moons star Volker Spengler from fellow Fassbinder alumnus Peter Kern as a cocaine-dealing humungous homo named Valencia who claims to have sliced his mother from her “neck to cunt” and has a dick-less tranny boyfriend named Schulz who had his cock cut-off because he kept getting sick from shoving his knob up other men’s anuses, as well as a gay-bashing sodomite neo-nazi (Andreas Scharfenberg) who gets off to beating the shit out of fellow gays, Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusions is surely a work that is not for the faint of heart nor the prissy and politically correct. In fact, I would not recommend the film to anyone who is not looking to have their night ruined, as Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusions is, at best, less than a merry mix of misery and misanthropy, but a suavely stylish piece of melancholy and moroseness nonetheless. As Dutch director Edwin Brienen explained in the audio commentary for the American release of Berlin Nights: The Grand Delusions – like the characters in the film (Brienen himself actually plays a cocaine-snorting fellow named Loete) – was facing a spat of bitter romance that also inspired him to move to Berlin in real-life, thus the grating debauchery depicted in the film, as I suspected, was grounded in sordid and smiting truths. Due to a scene where a character states, to paraphrase, "Jews create their own Adolf Hitler," Brienen faced unfounded criticism from a certain Dutch Jewish watchdog group. Indeed, Hebraic hypersensitivity aside, Edwin Brienen is one of the few truly groundbreaking and authentically controversial filmmakers working in Europe today, which says a lot for a continent that has no problem depicted unsimulated sex in movies. Aside from uninhibited and unhinged imagery, Brienen brings up ideas and themes that are rarely examined in modern cinema as a whole; whether it be the terror of gay nazis or the sadomasochism of sick sodomites, Brienen knows no limits, thereupon putting him in good company with his ill-fated hero Fassbinder.