Noir City International (Virtual) Film Festival: BLACK GRAVEL

BLACK GRAVEL.

… stares into the distance…

So this one has a lot of baggage for me. First of all, it’s brutal, a pitch fucking black exploration of ugly human nature. It might be one of the darkest flicks I’ve ever seen in Noir City. Also, dog murder and Nazis. I mean, I loved it, but it’s a lot.

Second, this is the very last film I saw in a theater before the pandemic kicked in and shut down this year’s Noir City Hollywood film festival. And maybe (I hope!) it won’t be the last, but I can’t help but think that the whole business of movie theaters is in for a bleak winter culling of the herd. Right now it’s almost impossible to imagine sitting in a crowded theater full of humans ever again. So there’s that.

All that being said, I liked (is that even the right word?) this flick even more the second time around. It helped to be able to watch it with Lupe, my emotional support Frenchie, in my lap.

Lupe does not approve of that guy using a dead dog to get laid.

Anyway, it’s truly brilliant, if you can handle all the ugliness. Can I recommend it? Well, maybe you should read my original write up below and decide for yourself.

The first thing I have to tell you about this flick is the distinct reactions I kept on getting from people who had seen it when I asked about it. They would get this thousand yard stare and just repeat the title in a hushed tone like it might hear them talking about it and come back to kick their ass again.

Second, remember that cute puppy in the previous film, who survived a wild fist fight at the trucking company and still lived happily ever after? Well, there’s a cute dog in this movie too, and it doesn’t work out so well for him. If you can’t tolerate animal cruelty or death, you’ll want to skip this flick.

There’s also some nasty anti-Semitic stuff, though it feels like more like character beats than a part of the movie’s underlying message. More on that later, but my point is, this is a rough one all around, kids. You’ve been warned.

BLACK GRAVEL starts with a trucker killing a dog with a rock and it’s all down hill from there. This a bleak, unflinching movie about the mundane and matter-of-fact ugliness and depravity lurking in the hearts of ordinary people during the strange aftermath of one of the darkest periods in recent history.

The film takes place on an American airbase in the German village of Sohnen, around which an entire ecosystem of shady dealings and debauchery has formed.

When a trucker and black market gravel smuggler (apparently a thing in post-war Germany) sees a coworker kill a dog, he keeps the flashy collar before dumping the body in the gravel pit where he works. Turns out the dog belongs to a former flame, now married to an American military officer. The trucker uses the collar to string her along, tricking her into believing the dog is still alive. Even after finding out the truth, she can’t seem to resist falling back into his embrace. (Me, I’d fucking resist. Also, I’d punch him in the dick, but I digress.)

The trucker accidentally runs over and kills a young couple and in typical Noir fashion, the lengths he has to go through to cover up his crime just bury him deeper and deeper. There’ll be a lot more bodies in that gravel pit before this movie hits its pitch black final scene.

Again, I’m struggling with spoilers here too. Doubly so, because this film seems extremely hard to see, especially the fully restored, uncensored version we watched last night.

(Updated to add: Not any more! )

So I won’t go into too much detail about the ending, but there are a few crucial things I need to say.

First there’s the issue of the dog. Now anyone who knows me even casually knows how much I love dogs. I fucking hate seeing any harm come to an animal, especially dogs. That being said, in this particular movie the dog’s death, and its hidden body and the way it all dovetails into the other aspects of the plot are not just necessary, they are absolutely perfect. Not gratuitous at all and totally worth it. Your millage may vary, obviously.

About the anti-Semitic bits: This part I will spoil, and that way you can decide for yourself if it’s something you want to see or skip.

An old man is playing a German marching song on the bar’s jukebox and pretending to march with a broom as a rifle. Drunk Americans tell him to knock it off with the Nazi nostalgia bullshit, but he persists. When the bar owner tries to stop him from pretend marching, he lashes out, calling him a “dirty Jew” and knocking him aside, into the now broken jukebox. The bar owner’s arm is cut by the broken glass, revealing tattooed numbers from a concentration camp. It’s a harsh fucking moment, but pretty powerful too.

My take on this scene is that it is more about highlighting the still very raw and ugly tensions that lingered between German citizens in the immediate aftermath of the war, not actually suggesting that Jews are dirty.

There is one other throw-away line where the investigator makes a derogatory comment and that one seems less crucial and didn’t really bring as much to the table as the above described scene. If it were my movie, I’d cut that line and keep the bar scene, However, they are both in this version and that may be more than you may be willing to tolerate. Your call, home viewers.

But all that aside, there was one aspect of this film that I absolutely fucking loved. I loved the realistic and non-judgemental portrayal of sex workers. Even our leading lady has a history of prostitution and it’s just a matter of fact part of who she is, not some dark dirty secret that could ruin her. I loved all the wild bar girls, especially voluptuous lush Elli, who is a total car wreck but still manages to be both sexy and sympathetic.

Did I mention she has a foot worship scene? Once again, the internet has failed me, so you’ll have to take my word for it and make do with the above image. She also bares a breast in a very rare incident of actual nudity in Noir City, but I can’t seem to find an image of that either. You perverts are really slacking off out there in cyberspace.

Update:

All in all, I have to admit I actually kinda loved this movie. But you all know how much I love a dark, down ending. The bleaker the better. I won’t lie, it’s tough going and left me feeling shook and beat the fuck up emotionally, but in the best possible way. Which is why we all keep coming back to Noir City, isn’t it?

So yeah, BLACK GRAVEL…

(stares into the distance)

Tonight we’ve got more Nazi Noir on deck with a Czech flick called …AND THE FIFTH HORSEMAN IS FEAR. See you in Noir City!

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