The no-budget surrealist oddity The Berlin Bride drifts untethered to a proper context or place in time. It’s clearly styled to look & feel like a 1970s Euro horror (or a 1970s lifestyle magazine, depending on the scene), but its cheap digital patina plants it firmly in the modern age in a way that betrays that intent. A 70-minute oddity uploaded directly to Amazon Prime by director Michael Bartlett himself, the film is letterboxed by CG red velvet theater curtains to fill a widescreen frame – something you’re much more likely to see in an illegal YouTube rip of vintage VHS schlock than in a new, officially sanctioned release. Anytime you manage to forget that this is a modern picture and not an authentic lost 1970s oddity, a flash of surreally cheap cut-‘n-paste CGI interrupts the illusion and jolts you back to a modern context. Mentally vacillating between those two disparate timeframes is a uniquely bizarre experience, one that only enhances the film’s dreamlike, absurdist tone.
The titular Berlin Bride is, in fact, a mannequin. Two reclusive 1980s Berliners split ownership over a mysterious shopping mall mannequin that’s discovered abandoned in a public park. One of the men uses her right arm to replace his own amputated one. The other treats the rest of her as his newlywed bride. Both relationships provide their challenges: the amputated lady-arm becomes sentient & nocturnally impulsive, while the “husband” of the rest of the mannequin becomes increasingly obsessive over that missing appendage’s absence from his newlywed home. The resulting clashes that resolve this tension are surprisingly violent, pushing the film into throwback Euro horror territory. Yet, for the most part The Berlin Bride feels like a bedtime fairy tale – stuck halfway between the understated surrealism of a Jan Švankmajer or a Michel Gondry picture, depending on the temporal textures of the moment. It’s a distractingly cheap, uneven film, but it’s also an endlessly fascinating one.
It’s tempting to apply some metaphorical reading to the modern fairy tale premise that unfolds here, maybe something about the possessiveness of masculine sexuality or the horror genre’s longstanding relationship with dismembered women. Neither of those thematic pathways are as satisfying as treating The Berlin Bride as a weird-for-weird’s-sake oddity, though. It’s unignorably contemporary to the modern digital self-publishing landscape, but it feels like it’s time traveled here from a previous era when movies could just be Weird As Fuck without having to justify that indulgence by Saying Something. Its closest modern equivalent is a no-budget, backyard version of Peter Strickland’s work, which I mean as a high compliment. Otherwise, I don’t really know what to do with the temporally dislodged fairy tale violence presented here, except to say that it pleased me.