God works in mysterious ways, but the main character in Tore Tanzt (Nothing Bad Can Happen) never doubts His presence, no matter how terrible things get. Maybe he should: In this dark drama, first-time feature director Katrin Gebbe puts Tore through a harrowing journey that might have been too much even for Job, introducing him to a family ruled by a truly sadistic father. The path is difficult for him—and for the audience.
Played by Julius Feldmeier, Tore is a Jesus Freak, part of a group of young born-again Christians who love punk music but not as much as they love their lord and savior. Tore encounters Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak), a burly, friendly guy who’s married to quiet Astrid (Annika Kuhl) and is the father to two stepchildren, the older being the tomboyish Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof). After Tore and a fellow Jesus Freak have a falling out over a disagreement about Christian values—the friend wants to engage in premarital sex with his girlfriend—he is taken in by this new family, Tore believing it being part of God’s plan for him.
But did God intend for Tore to be sucked into an unexpected vortex of bullying and cruelty? Tore thinks so, and so he goes along with a disturbingly increasing amount of physical and mental turmoil as Benno decides to toy with him, testing his unwavering belief in Jesus by brutalizing him every way he can. It starts with a punch to the face to assert dominance. It leads to making the young man sleep outside in a tent with no food. It only gets worse from there.
Drawing from actual events, Tore Tanzt will exasperate audiences who refuse to accept Tore’s rationale for staying in this nightmare: He believes Jesus has presented this family to him so he can demonstrate God’s love and mercy in the face of the harshest treatment. For Tore to quit would mean that he’s failed God, something he cannot allow to happen. Of course, this only eggs Benno on, provoking him into seeing if he can find Tore’s breaking point.
Those familiar with Lars von Trier or Michael Haneke’s work will understand the low-key sadistic streak that Gebbe is implementing. Tore Tanzt is a hard movie to watch on occasion, but it’s powered by some fundamental questions: Does God exist? And if He does, why doesn’t He step in to save poor, kindhearted Tore? Neither answer seems all that cheering since Tore’s calm acceptance of his punishment brings nothing but more misery to him. Is his belief in God a way to transcend such misery? Or merely an example of how the weak-minded use faith as a means to validate their lack of assertiveness in their own lives?
Those are thought-provoking questions, and Gebbe’s downbeat, relentless tone, though intentional, doesn’t always help illuminate the issues at play. At times, the torment can feel like overkill, although Feldmeier remains a sympathetic, almost beatific presence. As the young lady who takes a shine to Tore and perhaps sees him as a refuge from her family’s madness, Kohlhof is muted but alert, suggesting a girl repressed and terrified by this horrible man. And Gersak is simply monstrous. Though not overly physically imposing, he carries himself with a bull-like menace that makes his every appearance disturbing. Like Tore, we quickly come to flinch whenever we see Benno lumber into the frame.
Director: Katrin Gebbe
Writer: Katrin Gebbe
Starring: Julius Feldmeier, Sascha Alexander Gersak, Swantje Kohlhof, Annika Kuhl, Daniel Michel
Release Date: Screening in Un Certain Regard at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival