Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

“Bite it!  Bite it off!  Bite my thing off!”  That was the line uttered by one Simon Grombeck (Thomas Huber) after he just picked up a male prostitute, took him home and the two were in the midst of some passion by pay.  I mention this of the start primarily because had I known that a major plot point of this film centered on a man desperate to watch his penis get chewed off and eaten, I might not have watched it.  So I present this to you because of the particular subject matter in ‘Rohtenburg’ or ‘Grimm Love’ as it used to be known, because this may keep you from watching it as well.  Just throwing it out there is all.

Based on the true story of a man in Germany who back in 2002 ate another man, who willingly gave himself up to be eaten, ‘Rohtenberg’ centers around the research of graduate assistant Katie Armstrong (Keri Russell) who is in Germany penning her graduate thesis on the psychology of these two men.  For reasons which aren’t quite explained, Katie is a troubled, emotionally scarred young woman who is battling demons of her own.  For whatever reason, the day she heard about the case of one man eating another, she became obsessed with it and followed it until she was able to come to Germany to personally research the story. 

The film tells its story in flashback with Katie essentially serving as our guide.  Apparently a lot of the trouble from both of these men originated from having screwed up mothers.  Simon Grombecks mom killed herself after finding Simon playing doctor with another little boy and Oliver Harwtin (Thomas Kretschmann), the man who wishes to eat someone, was picked on as a boy and had an overly controlling mother who drove his father away while the young Oliver begged to go away with him.  From

these humble beginnings as children we are able to glean some of what led these two men to meet and do what they did. Grombeck carrying around the guilt of being homosexual and blaming himself, particularly his penis it would seem, for the death of his mother and Hartwin who is simply born with a screw loose.  He even ate his G.I. Joe.  All the while Katie is present unearthing information, staying in the house that Hartwin ate Grombeck in, and even watching the video Hartwin made of the horror.

Director Martin Weisz has made a very difficult, disturbing, hard to watch movie with ‘Rohtenburg’.  It’s also a very unconventional movie as well in that it’s not a horror movie as there’s no unstoppable monsters in it, and there are no cats mysteriously jumping in windows to sudden burst of orchestra hits – wait, I think there is cat leaping in a window to an orchestra hit.  Scratch that.  Despite the subject matter, it’s not a gory film though there is some blood, but it is not shown or used to disgust or to shock.  And probably most disturbingly, there are no bad people in this film.  Yes, the characters are cracked, fractured severely damaged people, but neither were malicious in forethought or sought to willingly cause anybody harm against their will.  One could argue that eventually these two people, because of their desire to get what they wanted was so great, would have eventually found each to other anyway so what crime was actually committed?  Besides murder I guess.  Hartwin did kill Grombeck, even if it was Kervorkian style. 

Is this a good movie?  Well that’s hard to answer.  Weisz creates an unsettling atmosphere with his shot selection and his use of the musical score that makes watching this film uneasy from its first frame to its last.  It is superbly acted by both male leads, and though Keri Russell’s part seemed somewhat unnecessary she was still very good in her role.  The film is also well scripted and well paced with the only remaining question being why would you want to watch it?  Despite the level of skill by all involved in its creation I doubt it will appeal to horror / terror buffs, and it works as a drama but this is not ‘Terms of Endearment’.  I certainly could have done without seeing this no matter how well made it is. 

Banned in Germany we are told, not because of the content but because of the invasion of privacy of those involved, ‘Rohtenberg’ is a difficult to watch, well crafted film which will probably appeal to a very select few.

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