What is it about witty sociopaths that we find so irresistible in crime thrillers? If you enjoyed Pulp Fiction and Fargo, you’ll find Schneider vs Bax a similar, albeit lighter, version of that genre. We begin with a lovely scene wherein Schneider, our handsome protagonist, is awakened on his birthday by his beautiful wife and two little daughters. The girls sing Happy Birthday and then flit off to school, looking forward to the party that is planned for their father later that evening. In the midst of this domestic clamor, Schneider receives a covert call from a man named Mertens who offers him a hit-job on a reclusive author named Bax. The irony and dark humor of the situation emerges immediately as Schneider demurs, citing his birthday as reason enough to take a raincheck on the hit. Mertens, however, insists the hit must happen today and besides, it’s an easy set-up. He assures Schneider he’ll be home by lunch time. What we don’t know at this moment is that Mertens has also engaged the alcoholic and drug-addicted Bax, a seemingly improbable assassin, to take out Schneider on the same day.
What ensues is an absurd cat and mouse game as a motley crew of characters enter to complicate what Schneider was assured would be an easy, breezy piece of work. As Schneider methodically sets about getting the job done, he is foiled at every turn by the likes of a taciturn wildlife ranger, a lowlife pimp, a kindly prostitute, Bax’s neurotic daughter and dirty old man father, and the various girl friends that come and go. Bax himself is as nonplussed as Schneider by all of these people who keep getting in the way of his hit.
What I found most interesting about this film is the setting. Bax lives in a bright white cabin on the shores of a reed-filled wetland. The ever present sound effect of the tall grass blowing in the wind is nerve-wracking, even excruciating at times. The flat landscape in broad daylight renders an edgy sense of exposure and vulnerability. And speaking of vulnerability, Bax’s daughter Francisca – depressed and anxiety-ridden – takes center-stage as she dogs her distracted father about her misery while he tries to carry out his hit on Schneider. When she catches on to what is really happening around her, she picks up the rifle and all bets are off. Now Schneider has two scopes bearing down on him from the seemingly sterile cabin. What Schneider lacks in back-up, however, he compensates for with quick and calculated schemes that keep the action – and dark humor – going.
In the end, Max meets his match with Francisca. As Schneider’s birthday party goes on as scheduled, you may wonder – as I did – if Francisca has found her vocation as well as a fatal means for channeling her misery. Somehow, it seems that Schneider and Francisca will encounter each other again one day, matching wits in the deadly livelihood of contract killing. Come and watch this comedy of errors with the Film Club on Wednesday evening, Feb. 22. The show begins at 6:15 pm. Stay for a while and chat about it. ~Lynne