‘Effigy – Poison and the City’ is a summarized retelling of what happened when Gesche Gottfried became a notorious serial killer in the early 1800’s in Germany.
Directed by: Udo Flohr.
Starring: Suzan Anbeh, Elisa Thiemann, Christoph Gottschalch, Roland Jankowsky, Uwe Bohm, Marc Optiker, Tom Keidel, Nicola Melissa, Eugen-Daniel Korber, Marita Marschall.
Country: United States, Germany.
Genre: Drama, thriller.
Running time: 85 minutes.
Historical dramas don’t usually depict uncomfortable topics. If they are based on true stories, the manipulation of truth becomes much more difficult. But they’re adaptations. They should not be evaluated considering how realistic or truthful they are. Not everybody remembers the things that happened seconds ago. And when it comes to past centuries, the truth has been written in so many ways and some many times, it loses strength.
However, it’s pretty certain that a passion involving history exists. There are people that work strongly in maintaining the past as pristine as possible. I have no doubt the filmmakers behind Effigy – Poison and the City feel this way. And that movie regards a very uncomfortable topic. This is an indie movie made with passion, a historical drama in the digital era that just feels right.
Effigy – Poison and the City depicts the events that took place in 1828 in Bremen, a German port city, when one of its citizens became notorious for being a suspect in an attempted murder case. Gesche Gottfried and her methods chilled the city to the bone. But even though her acts seemed monstrous, she gained sympathy from the town and others official involved. This is the movie that shows how Gottfried fooled everyone for years until it became absolutely clear there was someone behind some mysterious deaths.
Making a film like Effigy – Poison and the City cannot be easy. It’s an independent movie about something that happened almost two centuries ago. Nevertheless, there’s a general sense of intimacy in how the movie works out. Its environment is minimal and effective, precisely designed for a stage play execution. It’s never ambitious, and the general tone is almost playful.
But there’s a shift in Effigy – Poison and the City that forces us to land, and be in the moment when the truth is spoken. It’s a horrible admission that makes the movie a thriller and it stays away from being a legal drama. This happens at a pivotal, and very well edited scene in which the killer reveals herself and does the unspeakable to the most innocent of all.
At the heart of Effigy – Poison and the City are three great leads. Films should not make us question their characters and how they react. And these three great performers do a pretty good job at convincing us of their roles, and forming the dramatic backbone of the movie. Elisa Thiemann shines as a legal aid in charge of helping a senator put Gottfried behind bars. Her progression from an innocent and hopeful woman, to a fierce and brave seeker of truth is greatly portrayed by the actress.
You could read a history book or an Internet article and find out about Gesche Gottfried and her acts. But films like these help us understand the behavior of monsters by putting us in front of them. We are tired of the same psychopaths that look like other characters we saw before. There’s power in revealing what’s behind the mask of normality. And Gesche Gottfried is a great introduction to this world. She killed 15 people by poisoning them in a period of 14 years. And this movie does not indulge in a vulgar exaggeration of performance. If I could thank whoever thought of this, I would.