A flash in the pan. Hands on a middle aged body. Scented oils. Grease. Steaks sizzling. Hips. Thighs. Raw meat. Chakras. Auras. A slab of frozen lamb. The fizz-boom-fizz of industrial music kicking our ears in. The images keep pummeling us. A pair of bodies tumble into frame, wrestle on a wintry beach. Lock. Embrace. Kiss.
This is the attitude, momentum and sheer forceful delight found in German director Jakob Lass's second feature, an unconventional love story if there ever was one.
Then again, unconventional just means more real, more raw... more truthful. And that's Love Steaks
in a nutshell.
Clemens, a tall, awkward young man, comes to work as a masseur-in-training at a luxury beach
side hotel and spa. Fresh out of school and homeless, he's offered a corner of the laundry room, good enough for a mattress on the floor and a hearty "Good Morning" from the laundress at every dawn.
Lara works in the kitchen as a chef-in-training. She's loud, obnoxious; runs around with a skeleton mask, poking and prodding at her colleagues. Besides our head chef though, the kitchen is a veritable mess, filled with slackers, losers and jokers. Lara tops them all, drinking her days away as she shucks potatoes and slices up chunks of lamb.
When the two meet in the elevator it's a foul exchange, Lara exclaiming Clemens out-right stinks. He's rather taken aback. She's clearly unphased and pushes her way off the elevator. She's probably been drinking.
Clemens has kept to himself as much as possible during his work. In the
evenings he mops down the spa; a klutz, always nearly slipping on the
wet floors or bumping into things. He wants to do a good job and he
clearly cares, but he's fumbling in his own ways, just as Lara drinks
herself under the table.
The moment I knew I was totally on board with Lass' film came about 15 minutes in. A shot: the camera locked down, looking out the back window of a swaying car, a row of dancing pineapple tops in the foreground. Heavy metal blasts over the speakers. A cop car careens into view. Lara's definitely been drinking.
With a DUI, Lara falls deeper into her alcoholism, until Clemens, walking on the beach one night, discovers her passed out in the sand and covered in vomit. He brings her back to the hotel and cleans her up. This attentive care doesn't go unwarranted or unnoticed by Lara, except her way of showing her affection and appreciation is rather well... brutal. The pair more or less keep stumbling into each other with Lara saying
stuff like "no wonder your client wanted you. You're oozing with pure
sex." Lara continues to push and shove outright and then the two collide. Things truly get next level when she forces Clemens to strip down and cover his body in frozen meat. Goes without saying, but opposites attract.
What is absolutely amazing about Lass' direction is that the film is able to stay very funny and playful, while addressing darker and deeper places. Love Steaks
may bask in its own bizarreness, but that's also where it finds its light, its heart, the notion and need to heal and to help. Clemens begins to help Lara with her drinking, teaching her meditation, cleansing her aura. And she in turn, urges him to get out of his shell, be bold. These are two bodies, so distinct and different, but when they come together... a third body rises, their energies and auras combined into a person these two have perhaps always needed.
Franz Rogowski as Clemens is fascinating to watch. With Rogowski its all about the small, subtle gestures, his soft tone, the sad puppy dog look in his eyes, the way he trips down a hallway. By contrast, Lana Cooper as Lara is electric. She's a beauty, but she's a mess, pleading with her eyes to both be kicked and held dear. The pair's chemistry is undeniable, but also hard to pin down, a frenzy, which marks a lot of the fun to be had as their affair spirals. All this is framed by Timon Schäppi's equally melancholic and frenetic camera, Gesa Jäger's nouvelle vague style editing, and Golo Schultz's just as unconventional score of acoustic and electric guitar, horns and industrial bangers and bashers. Schultz is also a producer, along with Ines Schiller; the whole crew a part of a young German filmmaking collective called FOGMA Films, which you can read up on here
Not every moment may hit with the same gut punch level that a few key
scenes do, but Lass' film has one of the most unique palettes I've come across in the last few
years. With last year's Slamdance entry Kohlhaas
(my review here
), it is clear that fresh and exciting things are happening in independent German cinema, and Love Steaks
is somewhere at the head of the pack.
The ending sequence, which I can't spoil of course, proves that. It is one of the most gorgeously choreographed, emotionally messy and real bits of cinema I've seen on screen in ages. It also proves that love hurts. Love. Literally. Physically. Hurts. And that is a beautifully bold, bizarre and ultimately uplifting thing.