(Nicolas Wackerbarth)

A scene from Nicolas Wackerbarth's  Casting  {Photo: Goethe-Institut Chicago}

A scene from Nicolas Wackerbarth's Casting {Photo: Goethe-Institut Chicago}

The pitch: an ill-managed production crew is tasked with remaking Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant as a made-for-TV movie. Nicolas Wackerbarth’s Casting has the benefit of being one of the more peculiar premises for a film I’ve encountered in some time. It’s an intriguing curio, almost nerve-wracking in its awkwardness, as we observe an indecisive director (Judith Engle) and an opportunistic extra (Andreas Lust) threaten a production that was doomed to begin with. Reminiscent of the behind-the-scenes qualities of John Cassavetes’ Opening Night, yet told through a more blatant absurdist lens in the vein of James Franco’s The Disaster Artist, Wackerbarth finds humor in emphasizing the inanity of commissioned, dispassionate productions. There’s an active push-and-pull as Casting becomes increasingly more surreal, as perpetual adjustments are made to the film’s source material to the point that it homogenizes Fassbinder’s queer, canonical text. The critique here signals a distinct rejection of filmmaking as a by-committee exercise.

Wackerbarth, a member of the Berliner Schule, clearly values the kind of filmmaking that has ushered in such German filmmakers like Maren Ade and Christian Petzold: rich, personal stories about how men and women navigate anxious uncertainties. Yet the Berlin School values the work of American mumblecore titan Andrew Bujalski and I saw a lot of the filmmaker’s influence on Wackerbarth, especially in some of the more relaxed, drunken passages of Casting. But the slew of influences don’t dictate just how perverse and ultimately singular a work Casting really is; this is a notable discovery.