Fantastic Fest – Krabat

My next selection for the day was a German film called Krabat.  But first, they played a short called “Rite” by Alicia Conway, which details a young girl’s coming of age ceremony.  It plays like a happy Protestant confirmation of some kind is in the offing, with relatives in summer dresses and a picnic and a sunny trellis-lined outdoor service.  The shock is that the ritual itself is – well, it’s unexpected, and at first blush seems a little grotesque.  (I won’t give away exactly what it is.)  But upon further reflection, in the end it doesn’t seem ‘evil’ or ‘Satanic’ or anything; as a student of religion, I could see a ritual very much like this being plausible on any number of theological grounds.  And when it’s over, everyone is happy and goes on with life, there’s no “Mmmwah hah haaa now you’re part of the coven” kind of action.  I especially liked the way it was filmed; very professional, very light-saturated.

Krabat is named after the main character, an orphan boy who is taken in by a miller who is obviously a sorcerer, and details his coming of age in the black arts with eleven other journeymen who are in the same apprenticeship.  It’s dark and grim (Grimm?  Get it?  I crack myself up) and details the allure of the power their Satanic master grants, but the eventual desire for freedom and goodness that impels the boys to eventually try to break free.  “Hey, maybe this black magic thing isn’t as cool as it seems if we get sacrificed to hell-wolves every once in a while!”

The magic is portrayed as real, though much more limited in scope than Harry Potter; the boys can turn into ravens and become stronger than normal; their master can cloud mens’ minds with illusions, but there are a lot of ritual prerequisites and “proper times of the year” – in other words, it’s depicted very ‘realistically’ in terms of historical black magic practice.

My favorite part is the creepy figure that shows up only on the new moon with a wagon full of human bones for them to grind into meal in the mill.  Eek!

There are a dozen boys and the Master – when they first introduce them all I thought, “Shit, really?  I hope about half these guys get killed real soon so I don’t have to keep track of them.”  But even with such a large cast they do a good job of making each boy distinct and memorable and it wasn’t a problem.

Krabat is based on a German young adult book called “The Satanic Mill.”  You can immediately see the problem with this film being released here in the U.S. – and to be fair, not completely without reason.  Though Krabat turns his back on black magic, it’s not because it’s “wrong” but because it’s kind of a bad deal in this case, and still regrets the “price” of losing his kewl powerz; not exactly a ringing denunciation of the work of the Devil.  It’s easy to ignore the fundamentalists raving about how Harry Potter is Satanic; this film – well, it’s admittedly Satanic, and though not a ringing endorsement of it by any stretch of the imagination, is few enough shades of grey away that a large percentage of the U.S. market would not buy off on it.  I like that in the end, however, that the strongest force is the brotherhood the boys feel for each other.

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One response to “Fantastic Fest – Krabat

  1. They translated it in English as “The Satanic Mill”? Whoa. In Finland, it’s known as “Mustan myllyn mestari”, or “The Master of the Black Mill”.

    I’ve never read the original novel, but there is a rather dark Czech animated version from the late 70’s that I saw as a kid. I don’t really remember much of it, except that it was disturbing and bloody and I probably saw it way too young. Very good, though. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down a DVD. Apparently one does exist, but it was only released in Japan and has no audio or subtitle tracks in any language I know.

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