Berlin Hidden Gem: Karl Marx, Sergei Eisenstein and Bourgeois Vampires Unite in 'Bloodsuckers'

'Bloodsuckers'
Fakure Film

'Bloodsuckers'

Julian Radlmaier's screwball 'Marxist Vampire Comedy' takes a line from 'Das Kapital' and turns it into a period romp about, among other things, class struggle and the rise of fascism.  

With 2012’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter sadly yet to have spawned a Marvel-style cinematic universe, Karl Marx and neck-chomping Dracula types might seen unlikely movie bedfellows.

But the two collide like never before in a 2021 Berlinale Encounters title that also boasts one of the festival’s most eye-catching film loglines.

According to Julian Radlmaier, director of the 'vampire Marxist comedy' Bloodsuckers, for all his theorizing about class struggle, Germany’s most famous political philosopher (and Beard of the Year winner 1869-76) wasn’t averse to dropping a bit of metaphorical vampirism into his works.

"I was actually reading Das Kapital, and I noticed that he speaks a lot about vampires and other Gothic characters in history," the German-French filmmaker explains from Berlin.

Indeed, even before Bram Stoker’s Dracula effectively gave birth to the vampire industry in 1897, Marx had described how profit-driven factory owners "emerge as a form of economic vampires," in his most famous tome, adding that the capitalist is a "vampire-like" force who "only lives sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks."

Around the same time, Radlmaier stumbled across a curious piece of Soviet cinema history in a biography of Sergei Eisenstein. Apparently, while the director was shooting October: Ten Days That Shook the World — famously commissioned by Stalin to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 1917 revolution — Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky fell out of favor with the Russian leader, who then ordered that Eisenstein cut his character from the film.

"But the most interesting detail I read was that the nonprofessional actor who had played Trotsky in the film was, in real life, 'some kind of dentist,'" he says.

So Radlmaier took this bizarre nugget of info, coupled it with Marx’s penchant for bloodsucking analogies, and crafted his story, which follows Lyovuschka, a Soviet worker and dreamer whose hopes of becoming an actor are dashed when he’s edited out of Eisenstein’s latest film. Fleeing the USSR in order to try his luck in Hollywood, our hero finds himself stuck in a glamorous German seaside resort on the Baltic Sea that just happens to be filled with bourgeois vampires. Here, while pretending to be an aristocrat himself, he sparks a romance with an eccentric young factory owner and millionairess (who, sadly, is also a vampire).

Alongside the comic plot and an intentionally awkward tone that runs throughout the film (thanks in large part to Radlmaier mixing professional and nonprofessional actors), Bloodsuckers — which is on offer at the European Film Market via ARRI Media International — throws in some unusual fun with its period setting. The story may take place in 1928, but it isn’t long before blatant historical discrepancies appear on screen. Early on, a reading group is seen debating Das Kapital while casually dressed in denim jeans and leather jackets, but then there are more obvious sightings: a Euro banknote, a can of coke, a very modern, very shiny motorbike.

"I wanted to avoid the museum-like aspect of period pieces, which can often fail if you don’t have a lot of money to do it," says Radlmaier. "But I think this is also true to the spirit of the time, because the '20s were a time when there was a lot of excitement about the future, about speed and technology. So I thought it would be better, for example, to use a new motorcycle."

But Bloodsuckers isn’t all absurdity and games. For all the screwball nature of Radlmaier’s political comedy, it still manages to pack in a few contemporary political messages between the neck-biting.

Toward the end of the film, which — flashy motorbikes aside — takes place at a time when right-wing populism was fast-rising around the world, we see the bourgeoisie characters resorting to what the director describes as "fascist or proto-fascist" tendencies in order to preserve their wealth and class status. And their primary target, as it still so often remains almost a century on, is the immigrant.

Says Radlmaier: "So it moves away from being purely a critique of capitalism, which I guess it never really was, to more about showing how minorities can be scapegoated in order to protect the economic foundations of society."