Epilogue ★★★★

There's a franticness to the opening of Epilogue, as if Helmut Käutner, who both directed and co-wrote the film (a decade later, he played the same dual role on the fantastic Black Gravel), needs to cram all of the introductory material he considers crucial into the first 10 minutes. It's ill-advised and gimmicky, shot Lady in the Lake-style, with the breathless narrator positioned as the camera. Once that is all out of the way and the film calms down, however, it turns into wonderful surprise, a shockingly powerful story of selfishness and accountability.

Shot largely on a barge fitted out like a luxury yacht (the constant motion of the set and camera becomes almost like white noise — not consciously registered, really, but always there nevertheless), Epilogue is told through flashback, as an investigative reporter shares what he's discovered about the Orplid, a pleasure boat that was mysteriously lost on a cruise from Hamburg to Scotland in mid-1949. Ostensibly a trip to celebrate a marriage, it quickly becomes clear that there are other things afoot. Among a very many other things, the bride, who is having an affair which the much older arms dealer who has organized the trip, despises the groom, the steward and piano player are both spies, and the arms dealer's wife is blatantly flirting with a much younger guest.

Though this combination of characters and desires on paper potentially makes for a farcical trip, it's in fact almost unbearably tense, as it's revealed that there's a bomb on the ship, placed with the goal of killing the arms dealer. The news destroys any collective spirit that the trip had managed to create, revealing the dark, grasping selfishness inside each passenger. After the shattering experience of WWII, there is an air of suspicion present among the multinational group anyway; when their lives are at stake, it's every man for himself with an intensity that tears apart even men who were close allies while fighting for the Third Reich.

During the time between the revelation of the bomb and its detonation, the Orplid becomes a sort of floating apocalyptic hellscape, full of ripped up deck, smashed walls, destroyed machinery, and shattered lifeboats, as everyone desperately searches for the bomb they'll never find. In addition to trying to save themselves, some seize on the chaos as an opportunity to assert their own importance and authority, unleashing their own violent impulses on others in the supposed name of heroism. It's stomach-churning stuff, and incredibly powerful.

The film's profoundly grim conclusion is faithful to what we watched transpire on the yacht, with goodness and a desire for truth earning nothing but vulnerability. The corrupt will always win, because they have money, and because they don't care about what's right, or what's good. What they care about is winning, and their ruthlessness assures victory, virtually no matter the opponent.

☃️ Winter of (foreign language) Noir 🗡️

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