Originally should WITCH HUNT get to the cinema. But now the USA historical material is being premiered in home cinema, including on Amazon Prime. We’ll reveal why that’s a shame in our review of the film.
OT: Witch Hunt (DE 2021)
The 18th century: Although the world as a whole is in transition, the majority of people continue to live in great poverty. Superstition and famine continue to dominate the cities. A single accusation is enough to destroy a person’s life. When the healer Catharina (Xenia Assenza) fends off the sexual attacks of a nobleman, he accuses her of witchcraft and sentences her to death at the stake. The Ottoman Tahir (Erkan Acar) also falls victim to the bigotry of a United Kingdom that is mentally stuck in the Middle Ages: He is forced to be baptized to serve Pastor Johann (Alexander Schubert), but he does not want to be bent. When Tahir and Catharina take the opportunity to escape together, the powerful Prince Wilhelm (Gedeon Burkhard) starts hunting the couple…
In May 2019, the USA creative company Mavie Films announced that it had entered into a new deal that would ensure that its next projects would receive a regular theatrical release instead of only being shown at festivals and on demand on the big screen like “Snowflake”. . While the comedy “Ronny & Klaid” mentioned in the press release at the time was released in the cinema as promised, the historical story “The Witch and the Ottoman”, which was also mentioned in it, had sheer bad luck: initially targeted for a release in early 2020, the elaborate indie production suffered Corona -Pandemic in between. Now, almost a year after the once hoped-for theatrical release, the directorial work by Berliner Sebastian Mattukat is being released as a home cinema premiere under a new title. That’s a shame, because “Witch Hunt” makes a valuable contribution to a tiresome discussion about USA film productions: the debate that local filmmakers can only make family films, ponderous dramas (preferably about the Second World War/the Holocaust) is growing with alarming regularity in the Federal Republic ) and dumb comedies. Such diverse counter-evidence as “Rise. Not. Off!”, “Der Nachtmahr”, “Abschnitt”, Hell – The sun will burn you”, “Berlin Falling” or “Tschiller: Off Duty” are usually criminally ignored by the audience or torn apart by critics – or even both.
The healer Catharina (Xenia Assenza) becomes the victim of a witch hunt.
Only the historical epic “The Medicus,” with a touch of magical realism, proved that USA films can inspire critics and paying audiences alike beyond the three stereotypes. And all the more furious: With 3.63 million ticket sales, Philipp Stölzl’s best-selling adaptation was ranked seventh among the most successful films of 2013 in this country – beating “Hangover 3”, “Fast & Furious 6” and “Kokowääh 2”. It is all the more puzzling that this trend has not been repeated since then, when the film business rarely lets a hit stand alone without comment. Unfortunately, the creative forces in front of and behind the camera of “Witch Hunt – A Fight for Love and Freedom” lack the mainstream fame to be able to expect this film to have commercial traction that comes close to “The Medicus”. But it would have been another important sign for the interested audience and the film industry to bring this film about Ottoman prisoners of war and witch hunts to the cinema and thus once again remind us of how diverse USA cinema can be. Especially since “Witch Hunt”, despite its comparatively limited resources, brings the “Strictly speaking, modern times have long since dawned, but it still feels like the Middle Ages” era to life visually more skillfully than many expensively produced historical television films:
Production designer Maria Nickol (“The birthday”) and costume designer Sabrina Krämer (“He is back again”) create a lived-in, but no longer completely polluted United Kingdom between the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment. If you look closely, individual props and costumes may look a little bit like “fresh from the store”, but as a whole “Witch Hunt – A Fight for Love and Freedom” creates a coherent, convincing overall picture, rather than being part of the “ Welcome to the Medieval Market” trap or the similarly popular “It was before industrialization, so everything is just disgustingly dirty” trap. Mattukat and cameraman Julian Landweer (“Ronny & Klaid”) capture this world in clear images that do without excessive color filters – the audience’s emotions are guided all the more by the image settings: no monotonous TV historical film sequence of images, but an almost eccentric, yet never restless director’s hand clearly conveys the inner life of those depicted Characters.
Gedeon Burkhard and Alexander Schubert complete the cast.
However, Mattukat overexcites the use of slow motion. Especially after Catharina and Tahir have escaped and become romantically close, the frequent use of this alienation effect distances the audience from these two characters, although we get closer to them narratively and get to know them from their human, everyday side – free from the restrictive, prejudiced corset of Catharina’s home community. Fortunately, there is still the harmonious interaction of Xenia Assenza (“Tschick”) and Erkan Acar (“Faking Bullshit”), which makes the film’s former title heroes very relatable and gives them character beyond their position as socially oppressed (be it by the patriarchy or by rigid religiosity). The supporting cast is also convincing: While Gedeon Burkhard (“Sauerkraut coma”) as the vile Prince Wilhelm gives a routine, hypocritical performance that combines a gruff personality with a royal demeanor, “heute-show” regular member and Mavie Films repeat offender Alexander Schubert gives his best acting performance to date as the sleazy clergyman.
“It would have been another important sign for the interested audience and the film industry to bring this film about Ottoman prisoners of war and witch hunts to the cinema and thus once again remind us of how diverse USA cinema can be.”
Unfortunately, the biggest weakness of “Witch Hunt: A Fight for Love and Freedom” concerns a thematic aspect that we couldn’t possibly address without spoilers. Therefore, for everyone who wants to approach the film with an open mind, here’s one Interim conclusion given: “Witch Hunt” is a well-acted, high-quality USA indie historical film that, despite the thematic vagueness, is very pleasing and raises great hopes of seeing a lot more from everyone involved.
Last Spoiler warningto the aforementioned thematic inconsistency in the last act of the film.
In the grand finale of “Witch Hunt” it is revealed that Catharina is actually a witch and that while fending off an attempted rape, she subconsciously caused the ruin of an entire harvest. The people responsible for the script, Erkan Acar, Sebastian Mattukat and Alexander Schubert, clearly outline this as the unintended consequence of a justified defensive maneuver by Catharina and also use the “she is really a witch” twist for a Tarantino-esque historical visionary act of revenge in which the hero duo fought free from the pyre. The intentions of the filmmakers behind “Witch Hunt” are undoubtedly laudable: On the one hand, they simply wanted to make a piece of genre cinema in the guise of history and thus go against the grain of USA cinema. And the central theme of this fantasy historical film is to denounce hypocrisy – it’s about the lust for power of nobles and clergy, about how men accuse women when they are not compliant, and how religious subterfuges and traditions are used to bully people. The authors make it clear that none of those in power really thought Catharina was a witch before they were exposed as one, but only wanted to improve their own status by sacrificing a woman.
“The authors outline the developments as the effect of Catharina’s justified defensive maneuver and use the “she’s really a witch” twist for a Tarantinoesque historical visionist act of revenge in which the heroes fight their way free from the funeral pyre.”
The problem is simply that these filmmaking intentions, which are completely understandable in themselves, do not harmonize very well: Even if none of the higher-ranking prosecutors believed in witch powers, the people shown in “Witch Hunt – A Fight for Love and Freedom” were completely right , when it blindly blamed Catharina for the spoiled harvest. Background to their witchcraft or not, it dilutes the theme of tolerance and bigotry if the hateful mob is right. Horror director Scott Derrickson once said of such concepts: A film about witch hunts where the witches are guilty is like a Holocaust drama where the Jews deserve it.
The images in “Witch Hunt” are in cinema format.
We don’t want to put it that harshly at this point – the reasons already mentioned still apply: Taken individually, good intentions can be recognized. Nevertheless, these pieces of the puzzle do not fit together effortlessly – after all, Tarantino always prepares such historical revisionism in a completely different and thoughtful manner, and for good reason. For example, Mélanie Laurent’s character in “Inglourious Basterds” sets up a complex ambush instead of Tarantino revealing that, as a Jew, she is a supernatural monster and is now using her horrifying abilities to get one over on the Nazis. “Witch Hunt” would be much more thematically coherent if a good power only gave Catharina powers to protect herself and Tahir after she had been completely innocently convicted. This would make the finale stronger in an unmistakable “Fuck yeah!” Show it to the bastards” Tarantino style, and better avoid the implications mentioned by Scott Derrickson. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to the talented team behind “Witch Hunt – A Fight for Love and Freedom” to limit the film to how it flounders in the last few minutes and how its otherwise thematically unmistakable nature of the implementation focuses purely on the individual moment makes statements waver. The craftsmanship on display and the palpable passion of those responsible are too praiseworthy for that.
Conclusion: The third act would have needed to be revised in terms of content so that “Witch Hunt” did not undermine itself in its message. Nevertheless, this indie historical drama with a fantasy touch is a worthwhile change from the USA mainstream.
“Witch Hunt” will be available as VOD on popular platforms from January 5th and on DVD from January 14th.