This Is Not Me, Czech-Slovakia co-production will be screened in Documentary Competition at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
“Every normal person gets wasted,” says Slovakian singer Richard Müller tucking into a huge cream cake at a family meal during This Is Not Me. “I overeat.”
Miro Remo’s Karlovy Vary award-nominated documentary tells the story of Müller – a successful musician whose platinum-selling career was cut short by a hedonistic barrage of drink and drugs. Now much older, diagnosed with manic-depression and left with a voice ravaged by cigarette and substance abuse, he is abstinent, fat and embodies the gluttonous, depressed bulk of a man who’s given up. And yet there’s a problem with this – he’s agreed to embark on a 100-date comeback album tour with Slovakian band, Fragile.
With his fragile mental and physical state, what will happen is very much the unknown.
Beginning with a psychedelic onslaught of old concert footage, music videos and home videos – in one of which he’s suggestively tonguing a guitar – Remo’s compelling film (an endorfilm co-production between Czech and Slovakia) plunges us deep into the excesses of Müller’s high-octane past. He was a showman, an entertainer, full of self-confidence, charm and bravado.
In stark contrast, present-day Müller is shown sitting awkwardly on his own, his hands nervously shaking, or when in company, he groans painfully or doesn’t know what to say. This intriguing juxtaposition is an overriding feature of Remo’s film: we witness a fallen rock legend attempting to come to terms with his condition, his fallout from popularity and now living a life that – for health reasons – is now free of the things that made him tick.
“When I wasn’t abstinent, I was very creative,” he tells Czech chat show host Jan Kraus to promote the tour and album. “I think most of my current problems stem from being abstinent.” These problems – his inability to recreate the songwriting magic of old or in fact, muster the energy to sing and strut about a stage are certainly true – and something we see cause Müller immense frustration throughout the film. However, drinking was also a major contributor to his now dilapidated state.
One ex-partner explains how she had to hide bottles of slivovice (plum brandy) so he wouldn’t find them. When he did, she was forced to empty the rest down the drain. His career has been controversial too. At one concert in 2000, he was so wired on alcohol and drugs, he stripped naked onstage and asked the audience if anyone had any methamphetamine. The stunt prompted outrage from certain quarters and his apology – penned in the form of a song ‘Naked 2’ told his fans that he wouldn’t ever be naked again. While the whole ordeal emphasized Müller’s ability to self-reflect and infuse his music with a sense of humour, it didn’t deflect from the fact a Müller whose body was loaded with substances was far from stable.
Another factor that caused Müller both ecstasy and excruciating pain is his relationship with women. In the film – through holiday videos and interview footage – we initially see a refreshing romance behind his relationship with his model-looking first wife Soňa. However, when Müller boasts to his recording crew about how beautiful she is, Soňa glibly replies, “And that’s coming from a junkie.” This relationship ended in divorce and another notable love, Iva Bittová, who he later dumped via text message, told of his womanizing ways. She says, “Richard came home early in the morning and kicked the door down. He was with three girls. And he started acting out; he must have been high. And I was blind to it all. I just looked at him like a little girl.”
One of the most impressive aspects of the documentary is the cinematography; Remo’s intrusive and lingering camera provides a fascinating visual porthole into Müller’s desperate world. Close-ups of his enormous gut – contrasted with footage of a spindly, energized Müller and the pained, awkward movements surrounding his toiletry routine, draw attention to a man who struggles to urinate, let alone perform in front of a sold out arena. In one photo shoot to promote the comeback tour, Müller is helped into a hotel bath by two assistants. Were it not for the glitzy décor of the hotel bathroom, it could be mistaken for footage from a retirement home, the depraved image of Müller a far cry from that of the energetic young rockstar that his old fans are buying tickets to see.
Ultimately, however, we warm to our flawed protagonist and like all good comeback stories, Müller triumphs at the Bratislava stadium concert we see as the documentary closes. The veil of depression lifts as he rediscovers – in part – his singing voice and he realizes that he is still capable of entertaining.
“When I walk out on stage,” he says. “I try to fight it. Then I walk off and I feel a sense of relief. The anxiety is coming back. An hour later or the next day. But usually the evening after the show is quite nice.”
This Is Not Me
Slovak Republic / Czech Republic
2016, 90 min
Director: Miro Remo
Screenplay: Marek Kučera, Miro Remo
DOP: Miro Remo
Music: Richard Müller, Fragile
Editor: Marek Kráľovský
Producers: Ivan Ostrochovský, Jiří Konečný
Production: Punkchart Films, endorfilm
Coproduction: Česká televize, RTVS, AII4Films, Arsy-Versy
At IFF Karlovy Vary: International premiere, section: Documentary Films - Competition