Let’s Talk About (Weird German) Sex

Mar 31, 2014 at 1:08 PM ET

BERLIN, GERMANY—The first scene is a simple bedroom shot: a man on his bed, naked, pressed on top of his lover, a German shepherd. The scene cuts to a credit, then back to the man with his dog, cuddling in a postcoital embrace.

The 15-minute documentary, Be Loved, aired in 2010 and was one of director Jan Soldat’s first in a series of films exploring Germany’s sexual fringe—from bondage to bestiality. His latest, The Incomplete, premiered in Germany last week and won an award in the eighth annual Rome Film Festival last year. It delves into the life of a 60-year-old gay man in Berlin who has chosen to become a sex slave.

Compared with the United States, there are few sexual taboos in Germany. Weird sex is much more out in the open. People swim naked at lakes, sex clubs in Berlin like Lab.Oratory feature things like piss nights up to twice a week, and prostitution in the country has been legal since 1927.

But even here in this progressive city, which is perhaps the avant-garde capital of the world, Soldat’s films are pushing the boundaries of how the German public understands sexual fetishes—from sadism to zoophilia.

Instead of strictly focusing on the bizarre behavior of his subjects, however, Soldat pulls back the curtain to reveal their sex lives and deftly humanize them. As Klaus Johannes Wolf, the sex slave in The Incomplete, says toward the end of the film: “What I’m looking for is understanding.”

Not everyone has understood. After Be Loved screened at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2010, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called the film a porno and said Soldat was mentally ill. The criticism initially gave him pause, but it hasn’t stopped him.

“My films don’t say it’s great to be gay or it’s great to love animals,” he says. “Hopefully, when watching these films, you will find your own feelings. I don’t like it when a director tells me what to think.”

Soldat’s interest in making sex documentaries began five years ago. It bothered him that real sex—as opposed to the acting we often see in porn—is rarely shown on film. His first effort was a short film called In, Out. The movie is simple and straightforward: It’s just a minute-long clip of two people having sex.

Soon, however, Soldat became less interested in the normal sex lives of Germans, and more interested in the sexual fringe. He started searching Internet chat rooms for fetishes that are, to put it gently, more off the beaten path.

Eventually, he found a pair of men in their 70s who were into bondage. The result was a documentary called Law and Order that delves into their lives—from spanking to yard work.

“I wrote to masters and slaves saying I wanted to do a film,” Soldat says. “My only thought was to film older people, how they behave, how they walk.”

Be Loved was his next and most controversial film. The two men featured in it live together but have sex only with their dogs.

“It’s a really difficult topic,” Soldat says. “I only wanted to present them openly. I don’t have a position on it. There are so many ways of being an animal lover.”

The one part of the film available on the Internet is the trailer. The clip shows much of what Soldat is trying to portray in all his films: a sense of normality in what’s so clearly bizarre. But even he has limits. There is no actual penetration in the movie.

“I think it would have been too hard for the audience,” he says.

Last week, hundreds attended the German premiere of Soldat’s new documentary at a crowded theater in Berlin. Be Loved aired as well, and the sex scenes with the dogs put the audience on edge. In unison, it seemed, everyone began fidgeting in their seats. It was an uncomfortable moment, punctuated by nervous laughter.

Even one of the stars of the film felt a bit squeamish.

“Shooting the movie was a very happy experience,” says Jens, a 27-year-old zoophile, who didn’t give his last name. But watching it in public “is always uncomfortable.”

After the premiere, Jens and the characters from Soldat’s other films took the stage and answered questions from the audience. They seemed nervous, jittery and self-conscious, though the crowd was respectful and jokes cut through the unease.

“People can judge you more easily when they are far away, but when they are closer up, they judge you differently,” Jens told the crowd. “We are stripped down. It is showing…people who we really are.”

That, of course, is the point of Soldat’s work, and true to form, The Incomplete is uncomfortable, funny and very sad. It is the antithesis of porn, and perhaps that’s why it’s so disturbing.

The opening scene in this NSFW trailer shows Wolf, a small, naked man with a bald head, introducing himself as “Golem” from Lord of the Rings and locking himself into chains. It’s a far cry from the infamous gimp scene in Pulp Fiction. This is about a man who wants to be a sex slave.

Exactly why that’s his desire is complex. But in the film, Wolf talks about his sadistic grandfather and the Nazi background of his relatives. Eventually, he attends a slave camp of sorts, where he’s beaten as he tries to improve his ability to serve. Afterward, he says he feels confident and full, like he can now handle the most complicated tasks.

“Nothing bad happens in the slave film,” says Soldat. “But you can be afraid of it. That’s totally normal. I don’t want the situation that Klaus wants. But I want to understand him.”