Published on November 18th, 2015 | by Nathan Raine0
Schneider vs Bax
In Schneider vs Bax, Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam follows up his breakthrough Borgman with a film that is as similar as it is different.
One part Tom & Jerry episode, one part Buñuelian jab at the social duplicity of the bourgeoisie, and perhaps a dash of To Catch a Predator, Dutch writer/director Alex van Warmerdam’s newest offering is as morbid and absurd as it is amusing. In 2013, Warmerdam had a career breakthrough for his Palme-contesting, irreverent social-takedown, Borgman, which elevated his profile significantly. In his newest film, Schneider vs Bax, Warmerdam continues on the same attack on social hypocrisy and privilege, albeit with decidedly less impactful results.
With a revolving door of unusual characters and a plot that takes an incalculable number of black-humoured and disturbing turns, it’s rather worthless to try summarize the plot. Regardless, here’s the setup: Schneider (Tom Dewispelaere), a middle-aged man with a Stepford-like wife and two Sears-catalogue daughters, is called early one morning by his handler, Mertens (Gene Bervoets), for an urgent job. His assignment, one he must complete today, is to kill reclusive writer, and apparent “child killer” Ramon Bax (played by Warmerdam himself). Meanwhile, Bax, bunked up in a summer home in the middle of a marshland, spends his morning kicking out his young mistress and preparing for a visit from his severely depressed and estranged adult daughter. As the title would suggest, the film centres on pitting these two men against each other, both who aren’t quite what they seem, and both who are under some kind of mysterious contract with Mertens.
This is a far less esoteric film than Warmerdam’s previous, but like many of the director’s films, continues to be an attack on the priggish bourgeoisie. Warmerdam satirizes many a clichéd middle-class crisis, each tinged with a bit of absurdity. The daughter’s depression is crippling yet childish, Bax has a narcotic addition but doesn’t know what he’s taking, the grandfather is openly paedophilic, and Schneider’s laughably picture-perfect personal life is (necessarily) enveloped in ignorance. Even the inside of Bax’s home is blindly white and sterile, consistent with Warmedam’s tendency to lay his dark satires under a completely pure and clean surface. And the camera begins to overexpose the scenes in Bax’s pad, blinding and forcing the characters out in to the swamp, where they both literally and figuratively, are forced to sully themselves.
The film, though, is strongest when it gets lost in its chaotic knot of realistic action and drama, followed by utterly nonsensical consequences. The plot is unpredictable, each new character introduced escalating the stakes and the overall tension. Warmerdam also keeps things interesting by flip-flopping our sympathies — Schneider at first is the fatherly and sympathetic character, Bax gruff and an absent father. Then, things begin to shift. But there is no morality here, neither Schneider or Bax is a good or bad guy, simply players in Warmerdam’s inspection of irrational human behaviour. The film, though, runs of out of steam at the end, the high points of the film hit long before its cat-and-mouse climax. And it’s all a bit shallow, and hard not to conclude, for all its absurdity and pokes at the snobbish privileged, Schneider vs Bax‘s principle aim is simply to elicit a laugh. But, in that, Warmerdam is awfully successful.