CAREFUL May 14 2002


Kyle McCulloch
Gosia Dobrowolska
Sarah Neville
Brent Neale
Paul Cox

Count Knotkers
Directed by Guy Maddin

First of all, let me tell you about my first encounter with this film. Three years ago, I watched it at the local film club, and it absolutely destroyed me. I'm not kidding, I could barely speak the rest of the day. And I was not alone, my two polish friends tried to claw their own eyes out, and my ex developed a hysterical snigger that wouldn't rub off for hours. Now, I've been able to get this film on DVD, and last night I sat down with a cup of coffee (eight, actually) and a notepad. It was time to face my demons.

Careful is set to the small German village Tolzbad. On all sides of this village loom gigantic ice-clad mountains, and any sound can cause an avalanche large enough to finish off the entire population. This setting works as a metaphor for the mental state of the villagers: every single one of them carry mountains of emotions that only need a little spark to completely screw them up.

The entire film is filmed to resemble the old German expressionist films of the twenties, with weird angles, exaggerated emotions and colourized film. Some scenes have a filters that reflect emotions or environments (blue = cold/night etc), other scenes look like badly exposed Swiss postcards held up by the fat bitch in an extremely soft-focused scene from The Bold And the Beautiful. But enough of my cinematographical yakking, on to the action.

Hmmm... where to begin...

Right. In the opening narrative, we are introduced to a baby that gets its eye pierced by a needle. Later in life, when the child has reached adulthood, become a family father and started working as a swan feeder, he walks over to the clock to check what time it is when the bird inside jumps out and pokes his other eye out. While most cuckoo clocks have cuckoos inside, this apparently contains a swan fetus. There could be poetic justice at work here, but I really can't tell. Anyhow, now that the swan feeder is blind, he accidentally walks off a cliff and dies.

Now we are introduced to his family: the widow Zenaida and sons Johann and Grigorss. Johann plays some kind of tube-instrument in the local orchestra, and we are witnessing a concert. "Ah," you say, "how can they play noisy instruments in this avalanche-menaced village?" Well, they're playing inside a soundproof hall that's outdoors. I really can't make any sense of it, but it's not really important. What's important is that Johann's big moment is coming up, and he's got problems keeping his mind straight. What can it be that distracts him so? Enter Johann's love interest:

Don't worry, Johann hits the note. But! Who is it that watches the concert from a distance? It's Franz, the freak brother in the attic who never speaks a word or is let out of his prison! More about him later. Johann proposes to Klara, and then goes home. Now, you might have noticed that not only does Klara look like she's been hit with an ugly stick, she looks like she was picked from the tree where ugly sticks come from. You'd think she has an inner beauty, but she doesn't really, she's just as nuts as the rest. Why is Johann so eager to marry her?

Because he's having wet dreams about his mother! Like most people in Tolzbad, he's living in denial, and projects his feelings for his mother into Klara. Or something. This movie is Freudian enough to baffle Freud, and I won't pretend to understand it all. It's not really that important, what we have to focus on is this: Johann wants to shag his own mother.

What is Johann to do about this? How will he deal with his oedipal disposition?

Simple. He climbs down the chimney, hangs from his feet, and removes one of the bricks, thus creating a peephole into the bathroom. Then he picks out a mirror to catch a glimpse of his mother taking a bath. Not what I would do, but hey, I say potato, Johann says kartoffel.

Rewarding though it was, his stunt leaves him unsatisfied, and Johann decides to create a love potion to make his mother fall in love with him. But who is it that watches him through the cracks in the ceiling?

Franz and the father's ghost! The father has come back to tell Franz that his lingering desire for his widow has affected Johann. Oh well, so much for my sick little monkey theory: Johann is as sound as a Tolzbad villager can be, but the emotional magnetism around him is ripping the insulation from his mental wires. Will Franz do something about this? Will he save Johann from the clutches of his ungodly desires?


Franz and the ghost just stand there watching as Johann gives his mother the potion. That is, the ghost isn't technically watching, as he's still blind, but death has given him good ears.

Soon Johann's mother falls asleep, and our crafty little German sneaks into her bedroom with a pair of hedge trimmers. He cuts her dress open, fondles her a bit, and then realizes what he has done. He runs out into the living room, burns his lips with a hot piece of coal, cuts his own fingers off and then throws himself off a cliff.

Sad as this may be, life must go on in Tolzbad. Johann's brother Grigorss is employed as a butler at the palace of Count Knotkers, and Klara starts working in the coal mines. Grigorss is told never to enter the room where the body of the count's mother lies, but of course does, and manages to spill hot tallow at the body. Trying to clean it up, he messes up the rotting skin, but is able to fix it pretty well. I remember that when I first saw this movie, I expected a big graphic necrophilia scene at this point, but I was fortunately spared.

The next day, Grigorss is called to the count's chambers. Ready to shit himself after what he's done to the body, he enters. To his surprise, the count wants to promote him. Grigorss doesn't understand any of this, he's only been working there for 24 hours, but of course he accepts the position as the count's personal servant.

So, how is Klara doing? This and more will be revealed in part 2!