The Fraulein and the Sandman
Synopsis: One fine morning, Benno finds sand in his bed. At first he tries to ignore it, but it soon becomes apparent that his body is the source of the sand. Day after day, the amount of sand increases and his time literally starts running short. Finally he is left with no choice but to ask Sandra, who runs a small coffee shop under his apartment, for help. Although Benno hates her with a passion, he has started having dreams of her every night. What could Sandra and the dreams have to do with the sand?
.Swiss/German fable one for fans of surreal cinema
I like sand. That first soft, warm touch when the beach greets your bare feet is heaven. But after a while, the sand is everywhere you don’t want it to be – in your sandwiches, between the pages of your book, exploring parts of you it has no right to. All that was joyful about the sand soon becomes annoying; you can’t wait to get home and take a shower.
See where I’m going with this....?
Peter Luisi’s The Fräulein and The Sandman is whimsical fantasy served with bittersweet edginess and the combination is not always as ingratiating as it should be. As our eccentric anti-hero, Benno (a wonderful Fabian Krüger) trips unconsciously between a warmly-lit dream-state and the harsh realities of day-to-day life, so too does the audience. This Swiss confection surprises like the last chocolate left in a quality assortment – at first it’s sweet, but the longer you chew on it the more acidic it becomes and, ultimately, it’s a bit hard to swallow.
Benno is a front-counter clerk at a small philately merchant. A lean, self-consumed, oddly-attractive man with little regard for others (Krüger’s physicality reminds one of Seinfeld’s ‘Kramer’ character, though with a meaner spirit), he somehow maintains a semi-steady romance with Patrizia (Florine Elena Deplazes) and has a tolerant friend in writer Stefan (Sigi Terpoorten) but generally acts like a jerk. When the opportunity presents itself, he steals a rare stamp from his tightly-wound employer, Arzt (Beat Schlatter); he regularly unleashes cruel tirades against Sandra (Irene Brügger), an ambitious but talent-challenged singer waitressing at the cafe below his apartment.
Benno begins to notice grains of sand in increasingly large amounts – in his bed, at his workplace and, eventually, streaming uncontrollably from his sleeves and trousers. It soon becomes impossible to hide, as his entire body begins to transform; worse still, all those he comes into contact with immediately fall asleep, literally rendering him ‘The Sandman’ of night-time legend. Confined to his apartment (now resembling an indoor beach), he drifts off into a dream-like world of sunny days and romantic happiness in the arms of Sandra. She shares the dream and his reality and they put personality differences aside to make the most positive aspects of their parallel existences come to a single, full life.
Directors like Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York) and Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) have shown that the high-concept, highly-literate allegorical fantasy can be exhilarating. Luisi’s film will feel very familiar to those who enjoyed Gondry’s 2006 work, The Science of Sleep (I didn’t). But the staggered output of even those skilled craftsmen suggests that the strong ideas and precise execution required for such films work is tough to nail; a more recent example would be last year’s The Fairy, Fiona Gordon’s romantic fable that, like Luisi’s film, establishes a fun, fanciful notion yet peters out when it should have soared.
Like The Fairy, The Fräulein and The Sandman is not without its charms and they may be enough for some. Scenes of Benno fleeing through alleyways as sand pours from within certainly inspire giggles; nice chemistry between Krüger and Kaspar Weiss as his downtrodden workplace underling Walt makes for some enjoyable interaction.
Yet it’s when the film over-reaches, and takes leave of its conceptualised existence, that it stumbles (the whole TV-psychic/Number 9 sub-plot, for example, is very creaky). It is no surprise to learn that Luisi first explored the ‘sandman’ premise as a dialogue-free film-school short, where its comic potential would have far more easily been realised and the need for some manufactured profundity made entirely unnecessary.
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