Jan Soldat’s revealing shorts showcase sexuality and emotion without shame

Portraits (September 9 at 7:30) features four shorts, including “Be Love/Geliebt."
Portraits (September 9 at 7:30) features four shorts, including “Be Love/Geliebt.”
Be Love/Geliebt/Courtesy of Jan Soldat

Anthology Film Archives is presenting an immersive showcase of 18 short films by German documentarian Jan Soldat. The four separate hour-long programs each present explicit depictions of sex, but Soldat’s probing camera also captures the emotions of his unabashed and uninhibited subjects. The films are all artfully composed, but not very cinematic; the camera is mostly static, rarely moving. But the films offer a glimpse into the private lives of these subjects by observation and interviews. Significantly, the men all present themselves without shame, allowing Soldat (and viewers) to achieve an understanding. It is a revealing showcase. 

Program 1: Blind Dates (Sept 8 at 7:30) offers eight strong short films featuring hookups. “Friday Night Stand” has Alex and Franky reconnecting after being apart. They have sex, talk (about bodies), eat, have more sex, and talk some more. Soldat films their evening — the subjects acknowledge him at one point — as if eavesdropping on their intimacy. This short sets the stage for the other films in the program, several of which follow a similar trajectory. “Blind Date” depicts a rather charming encounter between Holger and Matti, and the satisfying “Speed Date” has Holger and Wolfgang meeting, having sex, and saying goodbye in less than one minute. Arguably the best short in Program 1 is “Wolfgang’s Angels,” where the title subject masturbates in his bed, as one, two, and three other men join him for an orgy of pleasure—but it all may be a lonely man’s fantasy. 

Some of the encounters are more awkward. “Blind Date 2.0” depicts what transpires between Paul and B, both of whom are passive partners. Paul reveals he is bisexual, and not looking for a relationship, and his candor as well as their sex, is far less interesting than the porn film screening on the TV in the background. In “After Work,” Holger and Lutz meet for sex, but one of the men is just not feeling it. Likewise, “Expectations” has a man masturbating in a hotel room but struggling to climax. 

Rounding out the program is “At Least I’ve Been Outside,” which has Soldat failing in his efforts to find subjects to film. The entire short features outdoor shot with text messages depicting the conversations, which departs visually from the other films in the program (and retrospective) but still conveys the emotional longing the men in his shorts experience. 

Program 2: Portraits (September 9 at 7:30) features four shorts that explore and explain specific practices and fetishes. “Be Love/Geliebt” involves a young man who seeks sexual companionship with his dog, whom he prefers over men or women. There are scenes of him kissing his pet and lying naked with her, which illustrate the intensity of his desire. He also discusses his jealousy. “Coming of Age” has Kalle being diapered and dressed up as a baby by his partner Horst. Kalle reveals he started doing this to make something good out of his incontinence, and there are scenes of him with a bottle in a crib in the living room. Meanwhile, Horst discusses coming out at 40, after being married for 12 years to a woman. The interview is more interesting than the observational footage. 

This is also true in the next short, “Florian,” which showcases its 40-year-old subject engaging in “smearing” and coprophagy. (Florian explains he does poppers to eliminate the bitter taste of his waste.) Soldat’s interview with Florian, explains the reason for his subject’s behavior. The last portrait short, “Nullo,” introduces viewers to Norbert, who performed his own pectonomy (removal of the penis). He proudly displays his body, and discusses what he did, how, and why. He also describes his relationship with his ex, as well as his current relationship, eventually pleasuring himself for the camera. 

Program 3 (September 10 at 7:30) features three films. “Law and Order,” presents Mandfred and Jurgen, an older couple in a S&M relationship. They are seen giving and receiving spankings and dressing up in harnesses. It is an oddly sweet and gentle portrait that shows the love they share and the pain they enjoy experiencing. “Respectively” is a series of still shots of individuals and small groups that unfolds without any real explanation, letting viewers absorb the scene and determine the dynamic being presented.  “The Incomplete” is a lengthy (48-minute) film about Klaus, a 60-year-old gay slave. He chains himself up and talks about the pleasures of being restricted, and how it allows him no personality and to feel emasculated. (Like many of the subjects in Soldat’s films, there is a strong need for punishment. It seems as if family trauma drives these men into extreme behavior.) Klaus talks about his family, which includes an abusive father who was a Wehrmacht officer, and eventually attends a slave camp where he cleans, gets whipped and spanked, is pissed on, and more. Klaus explains how exhilarated he feels by these actions and that he wants understanding, not affection. 

Program 4 (September 12 at 7:30) also features three films. “Vacation, Finally” offers three minutes of a man masturbating for pleasure. The other two films in this program are less sexual. “Erwin” documents the title character, a self-described “horny old man,” who discusses his two long-term relationships with bisexual men in a poignant interview. “Resident Ground Floor” is another lengthy (48-minute) and occasionally tedious portrait of Heiko, who feels life is meaningless. He recounts his experiences with his abusive father and the trouble he had with his ex-boyfriend. Now living in Berlin with very little money, he finds pleasure is peeing in his bed or on himself. Heiko revisits his childhood home and reconnects with his aging mother, only to recall his happiest moments were being raised by his grandparents. 

Soldat’s fascination with his subjects extends to the viewer who comes to know and appreciate these individuals who bravely expose themselves for the camera. The retrospective is an important introduction to and evaluation of the filmmaker’s work, but it is decidedly not for all tastes. 

“Jan Soldat: Retrospective” | September 8-12 at Anthology Film Archives