Take a Drink: for documentary-style touches
Take a Drink: whenever Bronski is at his desk
Take a Drink: whenever there’s a fight about watching the kids
Take a Drink: for animated/drawn interludes
Take a Drink: for pamphlets
Do a Shot: when the film just… goes there
By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
I knew precisely zilch about Part-Time Work of a Domestic Slave before watching it, but afterwards I can’t believe it doesn’t have more notoriety than it does. In a world where Spring Breakers qualifies as a shocking opinion-divider… goddamn.
Lars Von Trier, eat your heart out.
This film is about Roswitha (Alexandra Kluge), a married woman in West Germany with a husband, Franz (Bion Steinborn), who prefers to study his beloved chemistry then get a job. So, she runs an underground abortion clinic to support the family while also taking care of everything in the household. This status quo is short-lived, however…
Let’s get this out of the way first. We’re introduced to Roswitha’s part-time work in the most graphic (and I truly hope, expertly staged) way possible. Director Alexander Kluge is unafraid to touch any subject in his exploration of a woman who is a slave to her responsibilities, her husband, and her society.
That’s a nice feminist movie too, though, Disney, really.
Kluge bolsters this material with ample style, cribbing notes from Jean-Luc Godard and D.A. Pennebaker alike in constructing a faux-documentary, New Wave atmosphere with expository narration, stock footage, natural sound, and observational closeups galore. He also incorporates more fantastical imagery, like storybook pictures of German fairy tales, to further comment on Roswitha’s stifling circumstances.
There’s a very dry, sarcastic undercurrent of deadpan humor running through the film to lighten things and add another dimension of commentary on the oppressive nature of government and society. At one point, authorities seal off her clinic with tape stating “unauthorized persons” who tamper with it will be persecuted. So she gets a dog to open the door for her.
He only thinks he’s people.
Alexandra Kluge, Alexander’s sister, of course, handles the lead role excellently, creating a very authentic-feeling woman who is determined, relatable, and funny.
Unfortunately, not all of the acting lives up to Kluge’s docu-realist aspirations. Steinborn in particular isn’t bad so much as clearly acting, which betrays the illusion Kluge is trying to create.
The film slows down significantly when Roswitha is freed of her part-time work and becomes a bit of an activist. While her lack of focus is a bit of a commentary on the diffuse passion of new activists, the film itself seems to lose it as well.
Towards the end, the film even begins to depart from Roswitha’s perspective and suffers for it. One corporate meeting of the directors of Bronski’s company is rather toothless satire and just distracts from the central purpose of the film.
Part-Time Work of a Domestic Slave is an at-times shocking and powerful, but ultimately undercooked tale of one woman’s journey towards her calling.