You've probably heard something about the story by now: In early 2001 a German man was arrested for killing, disemboweling, cooking and eating another man. What makes this story particularly (ok, especially) bizarre is that the victim was a willing participant in the event! He actually wanted to be eaten! Obviously a story like this is entirely ripe for a movie adaptation, which is where Martin Weisz' Grimm Love (aka Rohtenburg or Butterfly: A Grimm Love Story) comes in. (Another film covering the exact same story, Marian Dara's Cannibal, is presently available on video. It's a lot more graphic, but not quite as engaging as Grimm Love.)
"Based on actual events," but using a fictional character for a framing story, Grimm Love focuses on American graduate student Katie Armstrong (Keri Russell), a committed researcher who finds herself absolutely obsessed with the story of flesh-eater Oliver Hartwin (Thomas Kretschmann), a rather sick man who's doing jail time for dining on his fellow man.
Given that we only know a few small snippets about Hartwin's life, Weisz cleverly juxtaposes Armstrong's story with early details from Hartwin's life. As Katie gets the sketchier stories about the killer's childhood, we're offered the anecdotes in flashback form, and as she gets a whole lot closer to the seriously slimy truth, the b-story material gets decidedly more ... icky. The whole (and admittedly languid) affair comes to a head with a powerfully compelling two-headed sequence: Katie gets to see the carnage on videotape as we switch back and forth to Hartwin's final descent. And it ain't pretty.
Needless to say, Grimm Love is NOT for all tastes, nor is it a fast-paced or gruesomely amusing affair. Martin Weisz has mounted an austere and chillingly matter-of-fact piece of fact-based storytelling, and if the movie slows down to a crawl once or twice (and trust me, it does) then at least you have some lovely cinematography to feast your eyes upon. (Weisz' second feature, The Hills Have Eyes 2, hits theaters next week.) Say what you will about the tone, the subject matter, or the outrageously uncomfortable finale, but there's little denying that Grimm Love is a very well-made film. Even during the numerous lapses into semi-snooze territory, I was still more than invested enough in the story, and this is coming from a guy who already knew the end of the story before the movie even started.
Ms. Russell continues to prove that she's much more than just another WB-style pretty face. Her performance anchors the whole film, and provides a welcome sense of humanity amidst such bleak themes and inhuman behavior. As the flesh-craving Hartwin, Thomas Krestchmann is really quite excellent. Never too frazzled or over-the-top, the German actor creates the creepiest kind of killer: The one who's completely normal on the surface ... until things get gooey, that is.
I can plainly see why the fest-goers I saw Grimm Love with didn't care much for the movie: It moves slowly, there's not much in the plot department, and there's no sense of light or levity to keep spirits afloat -- but I suspect that Grimm Love came out precisely how Weisz wanted it to, and while I doubt I'll ever see the flick a second time, I've no problem recommending it to fans of dark and disturbing cinema.