With a good touch of irony and just as a strong criticism of the National Health Service (and others), Wolfgang Murnberger’s Come Sweet Death sees its protagonist – played by comedian Josef Hader – as a sort of unintentional hero, an apparently bored man who does nothing but turn to alcohol and smoking to forget his loneliness. The director, on the other hand, does not hesitate to show us the worst of society without sparing us anything.
Comedian Josef Hader – who recently also became film director thanks to the film Wild Mouse (presented in competition at the 67th Berlinale) – is one of the most popular actors in Austria today. Yet, much of its fame is due to the now legendary character of detective Simon Brenner, the protagonist of the successful saga by Wolfgang Murnberger, which started in 2000 with the black comedy Come sweet Death (original title: Komm süẞer Tod), a film adaptation of Wolf Haas’s homonymous novel, and which saw as sequels the less successful Silentium (2004), The Bone Man (2009) and Life eternal (2015), all directed by Murnberger himself.
A title, this one, that inevitably reminds us of something much better known. And indeed, it recalls an aria composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, which is often quoted within the feature film itself. But what is the ‘sweet death’ so often referred to? To find out, one has to follow the adventures of a group of clumsy paramedics (including Simon Brenner himself, an ex-detective expelled from the police force for having an affair with his boss’s wife), who help numerous patients all over Vienna everyday and, in the meantime, try to discover what lies behind an apparently double crime of passion.
With a good touch of irony and a strong criticism of the National Health Service (and others), Come Sweet Death sees its protagonist as a sort of unintentional hero, an apparently bored man who does nothing but turn to alcohol and smoking in his spare time to forget his loneliness. And so, the camera is not afraid to show us Brenner’s own perspectives through distorted and oblique shots, before returning dynamic and precise when he is at work.
Wolfgang Murnberger, for his part, does not hesitate to show us the worst of society – a tendency, this one, very common in Austria, especially after World War II – without sparing us anything: from the scene of fellatio in a bar, to the torture of already battered bodies. And what does the spectator, for his part, do? Simple: he enjoys himself. Despite, in fact, the importance of the themes dealt with, what characterises a film like Come sweet Death is an unusual lightness mixed with a strong, very strong desire to denounce but without, at the same time, this second factor upstaging pure entertainment.
Paradoxical situations and thrilling ambulance rides through the streets of Vienna, as well as a neither predictable nor banal detective story. Come Sweet Death is also characterised, among other things, by particularly good rhythms and, despite its imperfections, is generally impressive, to the point that it has become a true cult film in Austria. And so, for such an ambitious project, the cast could not fail to be excellent, including, in addition to Josef Hader, a very young Nina Proll (after the success of Nordrand), Simon Schwarz (in the role of the protagonist’s friend) and even Karl Markovics, who has never been so mistreated as in this feature film.
But, in fact, why has a film like Come Sweet Death been so successful? Simple: because Wolfgang Murnberger (and the author Wolf Haas before him) successfully created something that brings to the surface all the flaws and weaknesses of mankind, leading the audience to confront their own shortcomings. And even if, in the end, there really is no ‘innocent’ character, the most important thing is that the message comes through loud and clear. Perhaps even laughing about it or letting oneself be carried away by a romantic Vienna at sunset, with the Danube that, contrary to its inhabitants, seems, despite everything, to always flow peacefully and calmly.
Original title: Komm, süßer Tod
Directed by: Wolfgang Murnberger
Country/year: Austria / 2000
Running time: 107’
Genre: comedy, mistery, noir
Cast: Josef Hader, Simon Schwarz, Barbara Rudnik, Michael Schönborn, Bernd Michael Lade, Nina Proll, Karl Markovics, Reinhard Nowak, Ingrid Burkhard, Gottfried Breitfuss, Georg Veitl, Hermann Scheidleder, Christian Weinberger, Trude Ackermann, Ulli Fessl, Brigitte Antonius, Reinhard Simonischek, Elisabeth Stiepl, Bernd Jeschek, Wolf Haas
Screenplay: Wolf Haas, Josef Hader, Wolfgang Murnberger
Cinematography: Peter von Haller
Produced by: Dor Film