Greek-German production A Pure Place is the second film from Nikias Chryssos, and follows his 2015 Berlinale-premiered cult mind-fuck Der Bunker (The Bunker), Germany’s answer to Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth.
Set on a remote Greek island, A Pure Place follows two siblings, Irina (Greta Bohacek) and Paul (Claude Heinrich), who have been abducted by a mysterious cult obsessed with cleanliness. Their main source of income is the production of soap emblazoned with the word ‘Fust’, the name of the cult leader (Sam Louwyck). The soap is manufactured by child slaves who live in squalor, segregated from the pristine cult members, who in turn welcome Irina as a newly cleaned-up follower and the prophetic figure they’ve been looking for.
Chryssos’ sophomore effort looks terrific but stumbles over itself when it comes to the narrative. It’s an eerie fable that contrasts the pure and the impure (“Pure the skin, pure the heart within”), inspired by Greek mythology and the figure of Hygieia, the goddess of health and hygiene. This strand plays well with the way the cult create their own warped microcosms, but the story becomes increasingly by-the-numbers as the runtime progresses, ticking all the usual boxes you’ve come to expect. It’s a shame, as the unsettling mood and bizarrely entrancing visuals take notable precedent over plot mechanics and tone.
Whereas the much darker Der Bunker expertly played with its metaphors regarding family as a noxious religion and showed how Chryssos had complete tonal command by deftly merging theatrical comedy with allegorical abstractions, A Pure Place fumbles its far more blatant Third Reich parable and tonal shifts. This means you’re never quite sure how seriously you’re supposed to take it, especially after a misjudged and more silly-than-weird scene featuring a luminous vagina that has the effect of opening a fridge door in a darkened kitchen.
It is worth watching for the production values and Chryssos’ mastery of the claustrophobic space, but beyond the look of the film, A Pure Place is an under-baked cult film that, ironically, won’t achieve the cult status of its predecessor.
A Pure Place / D: Nikias Chryssos (Greece, Germany, 2021), with Greta Bohacek, Sam Louwyck, Claude Heinrich. Starts Nov 25.