Comedy isn't just personal, it's also extremely cultural. That makes it a difficult genre to export, especially when doing a flavor of comedy that pushes the boundaries of what other countries think is acceptable. Rob Lücker's Jachterwachter is an exceedingly Dutch film that may trigger some raised eyebrows for those exposed to it without prior knowledge, at the same time it's also a refreshingly brash and dedicated film that doesn't get bogged down by misplaced drama and fully commits to being funny from start to finish. And boy did they get away with it.
Rundfunk started out as a TV series, later on they expanded to a theater production. Making a feature film was the logical next step for the people who developed the original format, though not an easy one to pull off. I have to admit that I'd never really seen anything from the Rundfunk people before, I rather haphazardly bumped into this film when looking for something fun to watch, but that wasn't a hurdle at all. It's pretty clear what type of comedy they stand for, and it won't take you more than 5 minutes to know if this is going to be your cup of tea.
The Rundfunk people sell a strong, particular brand of absurd comedy. It relies on surprise gags, thick stereotypes, farfetched plot lines and a level of bluntness not often seen in this type of production. It's not unlike the New Kids films, but even they feel somewhat pedestrian compared to Jachterwachter. Mind you that the creators don't shun comedy that's considered to be in bad taste and can no doubt be triggering. These moments appear to be very consciously added, so it's definitely a feature, but if you think there are clear limits to what can be used as the butt of a joke, this might not be the film for you.
The plot revolves around a well-meaning camping supervisor. The terrain he maintains is a complete dump and the people who come to visit are a bunch of ungrateful slobs, even so it's a family business, and he wants to do his father proud. His luck changes when Ronny stumbles upon his terrain. Ronny's a former child star who fled from the public eye after suffering severe depression. He's being chased by two shady figures who claim they're the rightful owners of his diamond record, so he needs a place to lie low for a while. He joins the camping staff, but it doesn't take long before the visitors find out about Ronny's past.
Comedies aren't always the most visually exciting films, absurdist comedies tend to be somewhat of an exception. That extra level of visual distinction helps with further detaching the film from our everyday reality, in turn making it easier to accept the absurd humor. With more pronounced camera angles, exaggerated colors (think Jeunet and Wes Anderson) and crafty sets, Lücker manages to flesh out Jachterwachter's alternate reality. Add some great visual gags and dedication to the visuals that stretches until the very finale, and you end up with an attractive-looking comedy.
The soundtrack is applied in two very distinct ways. On the one hand you have the amplified ambient sounds, supported by specific and atmospheric compositions. They aid with extrapolating certain moods, or help to smoothen the transitions whenever the film needs to jump quickly between different moods. By themselves they're not that special, but they're essential in keeping the comedy varied and surprising. On the other hand you have the Dutch schlager songs (the early work of Ronny), which is completely (and deliberately) shite and adds comedy through daft lyrics. Both aspects are very well done.
People who've seen the series will see some familiar faces, though some new actors were brought in to flesh out the cast. The performances are grossly overstated and subtlety is clearly not part of the repertoire, but the actors are really invested in their characters. It's the only way to do justice to this type of comedy. It does help to be familiar with some of the Dutch stereotypes that are portrayed here, which gives direction and meaning to the crudeness, but in the end I think it's more important to have a feel for the comedy itself. I absolutely loved the performances, but I could just as well see how others might find them truly grating.
Porting a sketch show to a feature film is never easy, I think the Rundfunk gang did well to simply embrace their roots and don't worry too much about making the perfect film. If you're hoping for a solid narrative and a worthy emotional payoff, you probably won't find what you're looking for here. Some scenes and running gags are 100% sketch material and have little to no link to the rest of the film, but as long as they're funny I can't say I really care. More importantly, the film never falls into the trap of letting the narrative or drama take the upper hand during the second half, the number one downfall of most comedies. Jachterwachter keeps on bringing the gags until the very end.
Doing comedy is hard, evaluating comedy is easy. It usually boils down to personal taste, the rest is of secondary importance. In other words, liking Jachterwachter comes down to appreciating the type of crude, exaggerated and absurd comedy that forms the backbone of the entire film, the neat presentation is just a fancy bonus. Still, it's what pushed this film to become a personal favorite of mine. Regardless of what you think when the credits start to roll, this is a film that screams dedication and conviction, pushing the limits of what is deemed acceptable and respectable. And for that, it deserves praise.