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A load of bull: “El árbol de la sangre” [2018 Spain]

And they end up being as attention-gathering as only a Julio Medem can manage (apart from Bigas Luna, of course). While the bulls and cows in his latest drama, “El árbol de la sangre” [Eng. Title: The Tree of Blood] might bear special cultural significance to Spaniards, others with a lesser acquaintance will nevertheless discern the passionate undercurrents these creatures will come to represent in this pheromone-fuelled family saga.

Úrsula Corberó and Álvaro Cervantes in "El árbol de la sangre", 2018Rebeca (Úrsula Corberó) and boyfriend Marc (Álvaro Cervantes) are staying at his stepmother’s idyllic farmhouse in the Basque country to try and piece together their extraordinary family tree, while opening up to and coming to terms with secrets and betrayals within their own relationship. They begin by recounting the early lives of their respective mothers.

Najwa Nimri and Daniel Grao in 'El árbol de la sangre' 2018Rebeca is the child of Macarena (the beautiful Najwa Nimri), conceived during her mother’s wild rock star years. As a baby, Rebeca had to undergo life-saving organ transplants that’ll deeply affect Macarena for the rest of her life. When one of Macarena’s fans, Victor (Daniel Gra0), expresses his love for her, she decides to get married and settle down, and Victor eases into the role of Rebeca’s doting stepdad.

Angela Molina and Najwa Nimri in El árbol de la sangre, 2018Marc’s single mother Nuria (Maria Molins) is a publisher who befriends and has a fling with writer Amaia (Patricia López Arnaiz). Young Marc first set his eyes on Rebeca at Amaia’s wedding; the groom being Victor’s brother Olmo (Joaquín Furriel). When Amaia introduces Olmo to Nuria, she recognises him instantly as the person with whom she had a brief sexual encounter that led to Marc’s birth. As the complex relationships within this coincidental family take shape, murkier details of the brothers before they entered Rebeca and Marc’s lives come to the fore, with unforeseen  consequences…

Úrsula Corberó and Álvaro Cervantes in El árbol de la sangre, 2018Even with a long run-time of 135 minutes, the narrative is pretty fast-paced; blink and you’ll likely miss a plot point, so this might require more than one viewing. As a keen follower of maestro Medem’s films, I find this screenplay his most ambitious and convoluted yet; instead of neat patterns exemplified in Lovers of the Arctic Circle and Sex and Lucia, we have strands that twist, branch off, and occasionally intertwine.

El árbol de la sangre, 2018And then we have the pervasive symbolism of bulls and cows as facets of conflicting but coexisting qualities between the various characters; be it moral, political, or sexual. They make an appearance in unexpected places, which might be off-putting to those used to more ‘plausible’ story lines, but they’re there for a purpose. As in many of Medem’s films, sex is an important ingredient that drives the narrative.

El árbol de la sangre (2018)Several of his trademark motifs that depict elementary forces also make an appearance in the film. Right from the exquisite cinematography, background score, choice of shots and editing, we see glimpses of the vintage Julio Medem that we love and miss.  If only he could make films more frequently! Performance-wise, the slightly under-used Najwa Nimri, and an ever-elegant Angela Molina playing the brothers’ mother stand out, and the rest of main cast give a decent account of themselves. On the whole, while this adequate Netflix production might not have scaled the heights of gems such as Tierra and La ardilla roja, it is still a full-blooded Medem in all respects, which on any day is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Blu-ray Disc Purchase Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Lucía Delgado, Joaquín Furriel, Patricia López Arnaiz, Maria Molins, Úrsula Corberó, and Álvaro Cervantes

Lucía Delgado, Patricia López Arnaiz, Maria Molins, Úrsula Corberó, and others from "El árbol de la sangre" aka "The Tree of Blood" [2018, Spain].

Lucía Delgado, Patricia López Arnaiz, Maria Molins, Úrsula Corberó, and others from
“El árbol de la sangre” aka “The Tree of Blood” [2018, Spain].


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Grow more pineapple! “Der Geschmack von Leben” [2017 Germany]

No, this is not a new UN directive concerning public nutrition (though it might be a refreshing idea), but it might increase demand for pineapple if Roland Reber and his vlogging protagonist Nikki’s advice to drink more pineapple juice is taken seriously by men across the world.

In his latest film “Der Geschmack von Leben” [Eng. Title: Taste of Life], the maverick filmmaker and his co-conspirators Antje Nikola Mönning and Mira Gittner toast to the life-quality-enhancing properties of ‘cum’ (ok – semen, for the exasperatingly prude), and extol the benefits this symbiotic exchange would entail for men and women alike.

Antje Nikola Mönning in Der Geschmack von Leben (2017)The film’s title illustrates the evolution of Nikki (Antje Nikola Mönning) in the classical image of The Road to Homo Sapiens, accompanied by a soundtrack that’s a knowing wink to Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘The Young Pope’ theme song (Devlin’s Watchtower). The montage culminates with Nikki armed with an iPhone attached to a selfie stick. As you might’ve guessed by now, this is a comedy, with some serious Reber-style bits from his previous films thrown in.

Antje Nikola Monning and Andreas Pegler in Taste of LifeNikki is an ebullient vlogger, filming and sharing freely her dogging-style sexual encounters, and interviews with random people who readily open up to her. Barely dressed most of the time, she drives through the countryside in a vintage Land Rover looking for ‘victims’, while espousing to the viewer through an in-car camera, her philosophy of sexual living without the restrictions of conventional love and coupling.

Antje Nikola Mönning and Marina Anna Eich in Taste of LifeNikki’s interviewees include women of all sorts; some suffer from religious guilt, some jaded in love, some are still waiting for the right man, and some of them, kinky. Nikki’s advice to all of them is to enjoy the ‘taste’ of life in order to be happy. Morality for her is about accepting and rejoicing in sexual pleasure. “My Jesus is a kind Jesus and pleased when I suck dicks”, she’d emphatically claim.

Antje Nikola Mönning in Taste of Life (2017)The thrust of the narrative is however Nikki herself; living life to the full and ‘feasting’ on cum on her own terms. When a ‘victim’, hoping for some kind of compliment after generously splashing his cum on her, asks if he was good, Nikki dismissively tells him that as far as she was concerned, he was just another blow-up doll who could come, and to add insult to injury, forewarns him that his ‘cumming’ days are numbered.

Norman Graue as Jesus in Taste of Life (2017)Since the dawn of cinema, we’ve had vampires (Nosferatu, Dracula) as an implicit metaphor for women’s need for emancipation, equal rights etc. Later, and as a reaction to feminism, came films depicting women either as oppressors of men in a dystopian future, or as vampires themselves. Reber and Mönning seem to have taken a rather vegan, live-and-let-live approach to post-feminism – no one needs to get killed (and no souls harvested by the devil). What’s more, they’re also promoting pineapple juice, and much like Carla Juri’s pizza-toppings (Feuchtgebiete, 2013), introducing culinary to unusual ingredients, even though they will remain an acquired taste for some.

Antke Nikola Mö and Iris Boss in Taste of Life (2017)Male secretions apart, what struck me was the quality of the film’s production. Mira Gittner’s cinematography, colour-grading, and editing is significantly superior to previous efforts, and it shows. The film is funny for most of its duration – in fact it begins with a scene that self-deprecatingly parodies one of Reber’s own earlier films. But what I like most about the film is that it is not pretentious; it doesn’t seek approval for what it is, it doesn’t compromise, and it farts in the general direction of unwritten film convention. Amen to independent cinema, and Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.de Blu-ray Link | Amazon.de DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Antje Nikola Mönning, Norman Graue, Iris Boss, René Müller, Alex K, Agnes Thi-Mai, Ute Meisenheimer, and others
Antje Nikola Mönning is naked or partially naked, well, for most of the film, and participates enthusiastically in two explicitly filmed oral sex scenes that few porn veterans, let alone Maitland Ward would equal – Ms. Mönning even explains it all in this interview. René Müller and Alex K are her willing ‘victims’. Norman Graue plays a hilarious naked Jesus. Iris Boss is the hitchhiking young girl who goes skinny dipping with Nikki, and is later groped in a sex bar while performing striptease. Agnes Thai-Mai who kinda reminds one of Alizee if she were younger, voluptuous, and of course naked, spends the entire duration of a song in the nude, begging to be whipped. Ute Meisenheimer briefly appears topless as a mature housewife. Other nude men and women appear in walk-on roles.

Antje Nikola Mönning and others nude in Roland Reber's comedy, "Der Geschmack von Leben" aka "Taste of Life", 2017, Germany.

Antje Nikola Mönning and others from Roland Reber’s comedy, “Der Geschmack von Leben”
aka “Taste of Life”, 2017, Germany.


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Interview: Antje Nikola Mönning – ‘Tasting Life’


To most Germans above a certain age, Antje Nikola Mönning is remembered for her role as ‘Jenny’ the nun in the long running TV series ‘Un Himmels Willen’. But over the past decade, she has become an integral part of Roland Reber’s independent film production house, WTP International. Apart from acting, Ms. Mönning produces, co-writes, and assists directing WTP films, and even finds time to pursue a career in music. 2018 had been an eventful year for Ms. Mönning, not least for the DVD-release of her daring portrayal of protagonist ‘Nikki’ in WTP’s latest film.

“Der Geschmack von Leben” [Eng. Title: Taste of Life] is about a free-spirited woman living and ‘tasting’ life to the full, on her own terms, and publishing her consensually filmed sexual encounters in her blog. I used the opportunity of preparing a film review for this site to discuss with Ms. Mönning the film, her daring sex scenes in it, and her outlook in general. And thanks to Marina Anna Eich’s great help in arranging the interview, here are the excerpts:


An interview with Antje Nikola Mönning

Antje Nikola Mönning, from a scene in "Taste of Life" [2017]

Antje Nikola Mönning, from a scene in “Taste of Life” [2017]


Hello Antje, a thirstyrabbit welcome to you. You’ve been credited as one of the writers for your latest film, ‘Taste of Life’. What were your thoughts and what were the issues you wanted to talk about while scripting?

The script of ‘Taste of Life’ is based on fragments of Roland Reber’s collection of texts and of the ideas that Roland, Mira, Marina and I developed over several car trips. My wish was to show a person who is totally enjoying her life and who is curious about other people’s ways of living without judging or ‘missionising’ them. Life is sometimes presented very negatively in media, creating anxieties that are not necessarily yours. By choosing Nikki’s special character, I wanted to show how you could live joyfully and free-mindedly without being too concerned about other people’s opinion. But of course there are many more themes that we’ve explored in the movie. You could say that ‘Taste of Life’ is a kaleidoscope of topics like sex and relationship, guilt and religion, sense and nonsense of conventions etc.


Was the film in some way a counter-narrative to the puritanical streak we’re seeing in Hollywood today which, while conveniently appropriating itself to the #metoo movement, essentially remains conservative at its core?

We have scripted and realized the movie shortly before the #metoo movement came up. It was never intended to be a comment on this topic, but to give a glimpse of different people’s desires and longings. There are as many life plans, stories, wishes and fears as there exist human beings. Even in these times of #metoo there isn’t just ONE female or male way of perceiving life. But I have noticed for many years already that there is a tendency in society and especially in American movies to become more and more prudish. If you watch how sex scenes are pictured, you will, for example, find woman having sex in bras, which I find unrealistic. Why not show sex naturally and unpretentiously if you want to picture it at all!


The protagonist in ‘Taste of Life’ is a free-spirited woman who’s unapologetic about seeking sexual fulfilment outside the confines of love and societal obligations. Can we assume that this is your post-feminist response to ‘classical’ feminism?

To be honest, I didn’t want to respond to any kind of feminism. But I notice that women who have non-binding sex with diverse men are still labelled as slags or sluts. That’s why I wanted to show the other side of reality; Nikki is not only free-minded, but self-defined. In this case, she is the one who chooses when and how often she wants to suck one’s penis without being submissive at any time. She really enjoys her sexual life, and life in general. To me, sperm is a symbol for life (as it is literally giving birth to a new life), and by showing the pleasure Nikki experiences when she licks off the sperm, I wanted to convey this symbolism as a tribute to life itself.


Antje Nikola Mönning

Antje Nikola Mönning


As you said, being the film’s protagonist, you perform fellatio (leading to a ‘finish’) with two different actors. That’s going an extra mile on top of the extra mile actresses normally go, when performing unsimulated sex for cinema. Did you have any reservations at all in doing these scenes? If so, what were they?

No, not at all. I think it’s funny that I always get asked if sex scenes in front of the camera are difficult to perform. But no one ever asked me if it was heavy stuff to slip into the role of the manipulating author in ‘The Truth of Lie’ who was playing games of life and death with two women by keeping them locked up for some weird experiment.


You have a point there. Is Nikki the alter-ego of Antje Nikola Mönning, and are her desires and outlook the same as yours?

The role of Nikki contains a lot of my way of thinking. I look at life in a very positive and open way, and like Nikki, I don’t care about what other people think of me. This creates the greatest freedom you can imagine!


Where will you draw the line when it comes to participating in explicit sex scenes in film. What are your limits, if any?

I guess, I would do almost anything that I think is important to describe, and define the character that I want to play. My personal limits are rather not to harm anyone. But explicit sex scenes are not always necessary. Often you can stimulate the imagination a lot more by not showing everything. It always depends on the role and what you can express with it. As an example, Lucy in Angels with Dirty Wings needed her orgasms to feel herself and to feel alive. So I found it important to show real orgasms to support my character.


That’s interesting. On a different matter, you were recently fined €300 for exposing yourself in front of two plain-clothes police officers in Bavaria. I quote your brilliant statement to the court, “I cannot believe it is a crime for a woman to show her body naked. We all came into the world naked. So should we sue God?”
Do you think this hypocrisy in society concerning nudity will ever change, at least as far as Germany is concerned?

I really hope so. It is bizarre that our society is almost oversexed by our commercials and media, but when it comes to an approach to real sex and nudity, media responds with a huge outcry over what it thinks doesn’t fit into social norms and habits. As I said earlier, at the moment I have the impression that our society is becoming more prudish. But when we look at the acceptance of homosexuals for example, we can see an enormous progress between the nineteen fifties and now. So let’s hope that other sexual orientations will gain acceptance, too.


Just being curious; have you ‘exposed yourself’ to random strangers in public before this unlucky episode?

No comment.


Fair enough! Would you like to tell us something about your forthcoming projects?

At the moment, we are brainstorming for our next movie that we plan to make this year. It will be some kind of revue with musical interludes.


A musical – fascinating! Is rebel nun Schwester Antje here to stay, and can we expect to see more of your free-spirit in forthcoming films?

Since the press is calling me TV-nun, Naked nun, Sex nun or whatever nun for almost ten years now, I decided to name myself Schwester Antje (Sister Antje) and to play with this image. I don’t take myself too seriously, but it’s more or less just an artistic name to launch my music. Luckily I am still Antje Nikola Mönning and have not transformed into any kind of artificial figure. And I want to challenge myself, so I always choose new characters. The next role will definitely be different to Nikki.


Thank you Antje, and we wish you and WTP International a Happy 2019!

(Ms. Mönning has since made a hilarious YouTube video following the court ruling against the traffic police incident, worth checking out.) 🙂


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Love and War: “Zvizdan” [Croatia 2015]

Tihana Lazovic and Goran Markovic from "The High Sun" 2015, CroatiaDalibor Matanic’s film “Zvizdan” [Eng. Title: The High Sun] gives a unique perspective on a topic rarely discussed with frankness by people in what was once Yugoslavia; their hitherto simmering discontent leading to and following the rebirth of their respective nations. Using two neighbouring villages as a backdrop, the composite film narrates three separate tales set ten years apart from each other. Apart from the main cast who appear in different roles in each of the segment, the common theme running through each story is love, and war.

"The High Sun" aka "Zvizdan" (2015, Croatia)1991. In the first segment, we see teenagers-in-love Jelena (Tihana Lazovic) and Ivan (Goran Markovic) preparing to elope to Zagreb. They belong to neighbouring villages, one predominantly Croat and one Serb, and will become unwitting protagonists in the looming ethnic conflict at their doorstep. After Jelena’s brother forcibly drives her back to their village, Ivan runs after the car but is prevented from entering by rookie militias positioned at a make-shift check post. By the time Jelena could free herself from her brother’s clutches and run towards her beloved Ivan, shots are fired…

From "The High Sun" (Zvizdan), Croatia, 20152001. Natasa (Tihana Lazovic) and her mother return to their war-scarred village. Years of conflict had left their home uninhabitable and the village, depopulated. They hire Ante (Goran Markovic), the only available handyman, to fix their property, and he sets to work immediately. Natasa’s sullen attitude despite her obvious physical attraction to Antje had a reason; people from his village had killed her brother during the war. Upon finding an occasion, Natasa mentions her misgivings about her brother’s murder to Ante, and learns that Ante’s dad was also killed by people from her village. Against this run of play, Natasa surprises Ante and initiates sex with him. Just as we begin to make sense of what was happening,  Natasa’s reaction following the sex underscores that age-old prejudices don’t fade away easily…

Tihana Lazovic and Goran Markovic from "The High Sun" 2015, Croatia2011. In the final segment, university student Luka (Goran Markovic) and friend are on their way to a seaside resort to help organise a rave party. But they need to pass through Luka’s village to get there, one he left a few years earlier with a cloud hanging over him. Luka visits his parents but couldn’t bear to stay until supper and leaves, wandering instead towards former girlfriend Marija’s (Tihana Lazovic) house in the neighbouring village. Marija lets him in reluctantly, but is unwilling to forgive him for abandoning her after she became pregnant. Luka was only following his mother’s orders back then when he stopped getting involved with people from ‘the other side’, but has deeply regretted it ever since.

Tihana Lazovic and Goran Markovic from "Zvizdan" 2015, CroatiaAfter being asked to leave, Luka drowns his sorrows in drugs and alcohol at a local party his friends were attending, but when the next day dawns, invariably follows the path leading back to Marija’s house. Upon not hearing a response to his knock, he sits by the front steps and waits. Marija takes her time to open the door, come outside and sit beside him. Both stare into the distance without talking, and after a while, she goes back in, leaving the door ajar…

"The High Sun" (Zvizdan), Croatia, 2015While the first segment deals with heroic love for its own sake, the second is about love prevented by prejudice, and the third is about reconciliation following past misgivings. The individual segments work on their own as distinct short films and give them an universal appeal. But as foreigners untrained to tiny details that the locals might discern, we couldn’t help wondering why Croats and Serbs, who don’t just share a geography, but also culture and religion, could distrust each other through centuries. Surely there ought to be more that connects than separates them which, were it not for partisan politicking, might even go unnoticed. The film’s production, a joint Croatian-Serbian-Slovenian initiative, captures in exquisite detail the pain and hopes of ordinary people of the period through these love stories. It has plenty of heart, conveying an important message not just for local consumption, but also the world. Highy Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Re-synched English Subtitles (PAL DVD)


Note: My justification for this rambling review, replete with major spoilers, is not as much to ‘help out’ site visitors who’ll never get to see the film, but highlight an important, universal message contained within it as another year dawns – clumsily if need be. Whichever part of the world we come from, our individual universes all contain their own little Balkan cracks; some we may have caused or directly blame others for causing, and some that were inherited from our peers. With every new crack regardless of who caused it, mobility within our own universe shrinks. What’s amazing is that it doesn’t take much to smooth over most of these cracks, and discover that your individual universe is infinitely bigger than you even imagined.

Happy 2019, guys!



The Nudity: Tihana Lazovic, Lukrecija Tudor, and others
Two scenes from the film feature nudity. The first is from the second segment when Natasa and Ante have sex. The other scene, from the third segment, involves Luka and Dinka (Lukrecija Tudor), a hitchhiking reveller – they later join others to go skinny-dipping.

Tihana Lazovic and Lukrecija Tudor from the film,

Tihana Lazovic, Lukrecija Tudor, and others from the film, “Zvizdan” aka
“The High Sun” 2015, Croatia.


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It’s an insane world! “Tag der idioten” [1981, West Germany]

Werner Schroeter’s films are pretty much like the man himself, less talked about but theatrical and larger than life in person. Among his last films acknowledged as part of the Neuer Deutscher Film canon, “Tag der Idioten” [Eng. Title: Day of the Idiots] is an exploration of people’s fear of accepting their own eccentricities, idiosyncrasies and imperfections in a conformist world.

Carole Bouquet in "Tag der Idioten" (1981)Carole (Carole Bouquet) snaps one day, unsure anymore of everything she had cared about thus far; her boyfriend, job, and standing in society. Frustrated with the real world, she leaves home, and after flushing the contents from her handbag down the toilet, orders three Viennese coffees for herself at a posh cafe, only to smear them all over her face and the table. “I need to breathe…”, an angst-ridden Carole mutters.

Carole Bouquet and Ingrid Caven in "Tag der Idioten" [1981]She gets herself declared clinically insane after accusing a neighbour of being a terrorist and leading police on a wild goose chase. In order to avoid prison, she voluntarily checks into Dr. Laura’s (Ingrid Caven) Victorian-era asylum; the doctor is aware that Carole isn’t insane in a conventional sense, but nevertheless accepts her as a patient. She’d been experimenting on patients ‘healing themselves’ through anti-psychiatry and hopes it might help Carole too.

Carole Bouquet in "Tag der Idioten" aka "Day of the Idiots" (1981)Carole finds the patients in the asylum simultaneously fascinating and repulsive, and notices among them the very woman she’d reported as being a terrorist. She ‘escapes’ the asylum more than once, but turns herself in each time, for she’s no longer sure if the world outside is any more saner than the asylum. Carole isn’t happy with either worlds and begins to find the very idea of living meaningless…

Carole Bouquet from "Tag der Idioten" [1981]The impressionistic melodrama however abandons any attempt at making a point and gets consumed by its own madness, by becoming a voyeur to the excess on screen. The film isn’t nearly as depraved as some of the exploitation films of the era, but will regardless shock viewers unaccustomed to seeing scenes of urophilia (golden showers) in mainstream cinema.

Christine Kaufmann and Ida Di Benedetto in "Tag der Idioten" (1981)The relative obscurity of the film, despite the director’s auteur-credentials and featuring a then current ‘Bond girl’ in a starring role, has prevented one of Carole Bouquet’s most memorable performances from being seen by a wider audience. The film also features an ensemble cast that include Schroeter’s long term muse and collaborator Magdalena Montezuma, the beautiful Christine Kaufmann, and Ida Di Benedetto. This might not be one of Shcroeter’s masterpieces, but his signature style and feminist message is written all over the film, and for that at least, it is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.de 2-DVD Link
Willow Springs, Tag der Idioten [PAL]


The Nudity: Carole Bouquet, Mostefa Djadjam, Dana Medrická, Magdalena Montezuma, Ida Di Benedetto, and others
The film begins with a long scene of a stunning Carole Bouquet pacing up and down the room completely in the nude as her oblivious boyfriend (Mostefa Djadjam) sleeps. She appears nude in two other scenes later in the film. Czech actress Dana Medrická appears topless on a few occasions as a patient with an urge to flash in front of others. Magdalena Montezuma walks nude into a party, asking to be placed in prison for an imagined crime. Ida Di Benedetto, who plays a deeply religious nurse, is briefly seen topless while punishing herself. There is further nudity in a bathroom scene where for probably the first time in mainstream cinema, an actor is shown actually urinating on another (unlike ‘Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom’ where everything was simulated). The scene is nonsexual, but the shock value is in the banal manner of its presentation.

Carole Bouquet, Magdalena Montezuma and others from Werner Schroeter's drama, "Tag der Idioten" aka "Day of the Idiots", 1981, West Germany.

Carole Bouquet, Magdalena Montezuma and others from Werner Schroeter’s drama,
“Tag der Idioten” aka “Day of the Idiots”, 1981, West Germany.


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