When you can’t count on death… an impossible sentence to finish, but that is what the world has sunk to in Stille Reserven (Hidden Reserves, 2016), a movie that considers the conditions necessary to make people spend their whole life afraid of not dying.
Where do you go from making death a commodity? Is there any “what will they think of next?” after death? Can you top that? How do you sell a product nobody wanted back when it was free?
None of these questions get asked without a company heartless enough to take death’s unmarketability as a challenge. European All Risk (EAR) sells death insurance. Buy one of their policies and your privilege to die is secured. Refuse, and risk dying with outstanding debts, and your body gets put on life support until your debts are completely repaid. There’s no chance of recovery. Your body isn’t resuscitated and hooked up to machines because you might wake up someday, but because you owe people money.
There’s no conversion system for how much your body is worth either, but common practice has brains being tapped for memory storage, women being turned into surrogate mothers, and all of this lasting for years after a person should be allowed to rest in peace. Attempts to die before arriving in Geriatrics are met with military-level responses. Teams with guns and searchlights track people down using their wrist id chips. The only way to escape Geriatrics, the facility where the bodies are kept, is to get your temperature low enough so you’re not worth the money to save.
Activists working against EAR are hoping to topple the system with an extensive power outage where all of the bodies can expire. The reward for these life risking efforts is death. If life wasn’t already obsessed with death, by removing its inevitability people like Lisa (Lena Lauzemis) are having to dedicate their lives to making sure they can die. This is with death remaining the big, scary mystery it’s always been and the people in power no more removed from its grip. The employees at EAR are keeping the system running but they are beholden to that system like everyone else, and need their jobs to afford death insurance policies of their own.
Vincent Baumann (Clemens Schick) is the Don Draper of the death insurance scene. Assigned profiles of people EAR wants insured, Vincent’s job is to come up with personalized strategies to convince them to buy a policy. His presentations are diabolical, filled with subliminal messages and perfectly timed entrances that make him look like he’s part of the videos he projects, marching in with a funeral procession until he turns around to show he’s not part of the footage. With a promotion up for grabs, Vincent gets results but when a car rams into his car on the road, the company man is ruffled. Vincent is startled, viewers are startled to see him startled, and it’s this sudden loss of cool over death, that getting rammed by a car will produce, but that’s not supposed to be seen in an ad man for death. The road splits, and Vincent keeps driving straight, but it’s fear – not power – that’s driving him.
Written and directed by Valentin Hitz, lighting has actors glowing with chilly complexions in this black and white society. Bodies are a commodity but, both for paranoia reasons, and attempts to counteract the hopelessness, identity checks are constant. A woman’s unborn child already has her sonogram photo in the system and it’s this repetition that we are individuals, with personalities and names that need to be checked and recited, because we matter, that attempts to distinguish people from cattle. When that personalization falls apart so does EAR. It’s why Vincent’s coworker gets demoted—unable to separate his own needs from his client’s, they remember it’s a business that they’re bartering with.
It’s psychology, and Vincent is trained in it, but so are Lisa and EAR. Being an employee of EAR’s makes no difference. Nobody tells each other the truth and it’s every man and woman trying to stay two or three steps ahead of the next instead of talking. Vincent and Lisa grow closer but their loyalties are inseparable from double cross and transfer. This isn’t the romance where the guy must choose the girl over the cause, and the ending is a menagerie of ‘who’s playing who’ bedlam.
Hidden Reserves won’t let you become complacent. There’s always fresh atrocities that make conceding your body away unthinkable, and the fight has to be fought, but it’s a fight that should have never been necessary in the first place.