Review Index



From Germany, a bleak and unforgiving portrayal of madness, notable for its uncompromising realism and a stunning lead performance by Elisabeth Stepanek. It is not, however, for squeamish or impatient viewers!

The Package
     German filmmaker Helma Sanders-Brahms has made several acclaimed films over the years, including GERMANY PALE MOTHER (1980), CASTLE IN THE SKY (1987) and most recently CLARA (2008). NO MERCY, NO FUTURE (DIE BERUHRTE), from 1981, was made independently (so we’re informed in a pre-credits scroll), as Sanders-Brahms’ traditional financiers were turned off by the material. The film was inspired by actual letters from a schizophrenic woman identified only as Rita G., whose dialogue and situations were apparently transferred verbatim to the screen.

The Story
     Veronika is a deranged young woman who hails from a wealthy family. Her madness is focused on Catholic iconography, and causes her to do things like strip naked in the snow and lie down with her arms splayed out cross-like before the Berlin wall. Her other schizophrenic quirks, all of which seem geared to freak out her ultra-refined relatives, include a succession of illicit affairs with various men and sending all the money her parents give her to the Pope. Unsurprisingly, Veronika spends a lot of time in a mental hospital, to the point that the staff come to know her intimately.
     Eventually Veronika really pisses off her parents by marrying a penniless black man, who leaves after Veronika’s family pays him off. She ends up running through the streets of Berlin shouting incoherently and hallucinating madly.

The Direction
The fact that this film was based on the actual recollections of a schizophrenic woman explains its lack of any sort of dramatic arc. No diagnosis is offered for the heroine’s condition, much less a cure. According to the director’s textual introduction, the woman who inspired the film was actually cured through psychiatry. That’s definitely not the case in NO MERCY, NO FUTURE, whose open-ended finale is quite abrupt, yes, but fully in keeping with the rambling narrative.
     The bleak snowbound scenery, monochromatically photographed by the great Thomas Mauch, is all the explanation we’re given for Veronika’s condition. Occasionally director Helma Sander-Brahms will provide visualizations of Veronika’s delusions (hands sprouting from the ground, a window reflection replaced by a flaming cross), but for the most part all we’re shown is a near-documentary depiction of eighties-era Berlin at its most depressing.
     What makes it work is the amazing performance of Elisabeth Stepanek. Hers is a bold and unfettered piece of acting with near-constant nudity and one of the most disgusting sex scenes--in which she and her partner are literally covered in vaginal blood--in film history. Stepanek hasn’t appeared in too many other films, but her work here marks her as a performer as fearless as any you’re likely to encounter.

Vital Statistics

Helma Sanders Filmproduktion

Director/Producer: Helma Sanders-Brahms
Screenplay: Helma Sanders-Brahmas (with “Texts” by Rita G.)
Cinematography: Thomas Mauch
Editing: Ursula West
Cast: Elisabeth Stepanek, Nguyen Chi Danh, Karl Heinz Reimann, Jorge Reis, Carola Regnier, Gunther Ehlert