Film Review: ‘Effigy — Poison and the City’

Christoph Gottschalch portrays a local senator who means to prosecute the case and looks every bit the deliberative bureaucrat weighing evidence and trying to do the right thing. His biggest move is hiring a woman as his clerk in a time when women are expected to stay home and forbidden to attend the country’s universities. It’s underscored more than once in the screenplay that it was “entirely uncommon” to have a female clerk in the criminal court.

Elisa Thiemann plays this role with spirit and quiet insight, and “Effigy” (whose title is one of the anomalies of the film) is therefore promoted as a showdown between “two very different women [who] collide in an age that has no place for either of them.”

That may be reading a lot into the situation, but it’s good to see strong, talented women in the main roles of a historical thriller that excels in its exacting sense of time and place.

Using a lot of the existing architecture of Germany and the Netherlands as backdrops, Melanie Ullrich’s set design and Katja Pilgrim’s costume design succeed in creating a credible world of the past. There is even a credit for historical props, down to every ink pen scratching details on papers. 

Even the most surreal moment of the film — when a blood rain shockingly falls — has a historical explanation after all. 

Cinematography by Thomas Kist and Nic Raine’s music combine to create a lush setting for such a modestly budgeted film. Sven Pape, the Hollywood-based editor who runs a popular YouTube channel on his art, helps make it a seamless entertainment. 

By adhering to the story and its timeframe, with no allowances given for jolting modern titillation “Effigy” is a transformative and artful portrait of an era just before science and criminology could get a hold of this specific kind of deviation. 

“Effigy – Poison and the City” is available on video on demand.

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