The Sandman (2011)


(Der Sandmann)

Switzerland. 2011.


Director/Screenplay – Peter Luisi, Producers – David Luisi & Peter Luisi, Photography – Lorenz Merz, Music – Michael Duss, Christian Schlumpf & Martin Skalsky, Visual Effects Supervisor – Joel Helmlinger, Production Design – Frederik Kunkel. Production Company – Spotlight Media Productions AG


Fabian Krüger (Benno), Frolein Da Capo [Irene Brügger] (Sandra Da Capo), Beat Schlatter (Max), Florine Elena Deplazes (Patrizia), Kaspar Weiss (Walter), Michael Gammenthaler (Dimitri)


Benno works at a stamp collector’s shop in Zurich. He lives up upstairs from the cafe run by Sandra where her insistence on practicing her singing keeps him awake at night. Benno is loud and derisive to Sandra’s face about her lack of talent. Benno then starts to find sand in his bed when he wakes up. At the same time, he also has romantic dreams about himself and Sandra. Benno soon finds that he is shedding increasingly larger quantities of sand everywhere he goes. This become of great embarrassment as he tries to hide the sand at work and from his girlfriend Patrizia. He then discovers that the sand will cause anybody to go to sleep if they inhale it. As he loses an arm to the sand, he is reluctantly forced to ask Sandra’s help in finding a means of stopping it. Together they find that the sand only begins to pour when Benno is not telling the truth. As the sand takes over Benno’s apartment, he and Sandra are forced to enter into their shared dream and follow the clues there that will prevent him from disappearing altogether.

This Swiss film is a genuine oddity. The Sandman – no relation to the classic Neil Gaiman graphic novel The Sandman (1989-96) – was the fifth feature film for Swiss director Peter Luisi, previously known for wacky comedies such as Verflixt Verliebt (2004), the US-made Love Made Easy (2006), Langer Leben/Long Life (2010) and the more serious minded Vitus (2006).

Maybe the nearest point of comparison between The Sandman and any other film might be to Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep (2006), which likewise concerned thwarted loves between a man and his neighbour and wove in and out of dreams with a very similar sense of oddball humour. The Sandman proves to be a hard film to get a handle on for some way in. Fabian Krüger looks ungainly with his tall, gangly frame and wildly askew thinning hair. He is one of the least likeable protagonists one has seen in a film in some time – filled with a pompous self-importance and treating the would-be singer downstairs (Irene Brügger who is billed as Frolein Da Capo, the same name as her character) badly, insulting her looks, cooking and especially musical talent at length. The Sandman is one of those films where the two are so exaggeratedly opposed that you know that the only character arc available is for them to get together.

The film starts to become weird as Fabian Krüger finds he is shedding sand – in his bed, from his shirtsleeves and trouser cuffs. As premises for a film goes, a comedy about a man who starts to uncontrollably shed sand is one of the strangest and most trivial one has come across in some time. I kept puzzling over where this was going to go – or even what the film could possibly do with it as a concept. There are other wacky twists added to it – when people inhale the sand, they instantly fall asleep, while Fabian Krüger then makes the discovery that the sand stops shedding when he tells the truth – shades of the Jim Carrey film Liar Liar (1997). The film seems to happily spend most of its running time doglegging around these various contortions. It is at its best during the scenes in the stamp shop where Fabian Krüger’s boss (Beat Schlatter) gets uptight about the sand constantly appearing, forcing Krüger to tie his cuffs up with tape and we then see him bulging at the seams with giant sausage legs and arms, or where he is fired and hurriedly blows sand in Schlatter’s face and seats him at his desk to convince him it was all a dream. Amid all of this, the truth-telling aspect never gets as much focus as it should have.

The film eventually ends with the Ionescu-esque set-up where Fabian Krüger is in his apartment with the sand having accumulated so much that it has buried him up to his face and where he and Irene Brügger are forced together, each sniffing the sand so they can enter into the shared dream that involves him having to conduct an orchestra as she stands up to perform Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. All of this is conducted with a playful dexterity, before the film reaches an oddly touching end where Fabian Krüger must crawl downstairs to seek her help with all but his upper torso and one arm having dissolved into sand and tells her all via the use of negatives that he has feelings for her. The very similar The Science of Sleep did it all with much more in the way of a conceptual adroitness that wove its audience into a playful conundrum; The Sandman is the lesser but has its undeniable moments.

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