The Shoe of the Manitu [Der Schuh des Manitu]

| August 5, 2001

While American audiences have spent the summer lamenting a slew of box-office bombs, German cinema goers are cheering the arrival of a home grown box-office success. And rightfully so. Der Schuh des Manitu is a thoroughly enjoyable comedy. That’s right, folks. Not only have the Germans made a good movie, but it’s actually funny! Comedian Michael “Bully” Herbig directs this comedy, as well as acting in two of the lead roles.
The premise of Der Schuh des Manitu does not look promising, as it is a parody of an American Western. I approached the theatre with a good deal of trepidation, expecting grossly overblown stereotypes of Americans and Native Americans. Der Schuh succeeds, however, because it is a movie about Germans set in the context and plot of a Western.
This might sound a bit strange, at first, but the combination actually works quite nicely. The American Western component provides a familiar scenery and plot. The white man, Ranger (Christian Tremitz), and the Indian, Abahachi (Michael “Bully” Herbig) are blood brothers, as Abahachi once saved Ranger’s life. They pass through a series of adventures, and cross enemies as they search for a stolen jewel. This aspect of the film completely lacks any sort of creativity. Our joy, however, comes from watching a parade of tried and true slapstick situations executed with stellar acting and perfect timing. Without understanding a word of German, Americans would appreciate the humor even at this level.
The German component provides a more subtle and sophisticated humor that many Western parodies lack. Though the film technically takes place in the Old West, Herbig takes gleeful dramatic license to add completely non sequitor characters. American viewers will fully appreciate Winnetouch (also played by Herbig), the flamboyantly gay brother of the serious Indian Abahachi. Other characters are less accessible to foreign audiences, but play wonderfully off of German stereotypes. There is Dimitri, the Greek tavern owner, for example, whose dress and speech are hilarlious to Germans, but somewhat less accessible to foreign audiences. Finally, thoroughly German objects and activities play an important role in many scenes. For example, one hero is saved from an arrow to the chest because he is wearing a large Lebkuchenherz (gingerbread heart). These sweetsie Christmas treats often bear messages of love and romance. Here the heart says “Shit Happens.’ The comedy with such scenes functions on the two levels of the movie: We laugh because a Lebkuchenherz is ridiculously out of place in a Western, but we also laugh because of the humor in the context of the German culture as well. Viewers familiar with German culture will love the many references to Winnetou, a completely fictional literary Indian character known to all in Germany and virtually no one outside.
Herbig has also inserted a few song and dance numbers in the film. They are cute and the dancing is sharp, but the appearance of the songs often seems a bit out of place and the lipsynching has been done quite poorly. Herbig also makes the mistake of lumping Native Americans and Mexicans into one category which might irritate some American viewers.
Aside from these few minor problems, Der Schuh des Manitu has such endearing characters, well-timed slapstick, and sophisticated verbal comedy, that viewers from any culture are bound to leave with a smile.

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