In observing the rise of incoherent extremist right-wing ideologies across the Western world, it’s often hard to know whether to laugh or cry. But here comes a hapless Czech neo-Nazi by the name of Dalibor K. who provides an answer: Do both. Star of Vít Klusák’s morbidly hilarious but also dankly chilling “The White World of Daliborek,” which the provocateur filmmaker rightly subtitles “a documentary play” as distinct from a straight-up documentary, Dalibor is an emblematic tragicomic antihero for our times. Now pushing 40, he lives in a small, economically depressed Czech town with his batty mother, posts workout selfies and homemade videos on YouTube (sometimes getting north of 180 views!) and trundles daily to his job as an industrial painter in a nearby factory with his lunch in a yellow plastic bag from a cut-price supermarket. He’d be an endearing underdog if it weren’t for the whole loving-Hitler thing.
Dalibor’s creative outlets are many and varied. Some involve him tracing outline drawings of Der Führer and women’s genitalia off the TV, while at other times his fancy turns to music, and he records tuneless Death Metal squawks with lyrics offering sage advice as to the proper treatment of women: “Beat her like a demon/Spray her with your semen” being one particularly vivid couplet. His violently misogynistic wordplay is somewhat undercut, however, by the twee gifs of hearts and flowers that bedeck his text conversations with tentative new squeeze Jana, a tired-eyed single mother who stolidly refuses to have sex with him.
Dalibor’s mother is more successful in that regard: Social media-obsessed Vera (seen with two iPads and a smartphone on the go, as the TV burbles in the background) has cast her net through various online dating sites and finally snagged a keeper. Much to Dalibor’s petulant outrage, her lover, Vladimir, soon becomes part of the furniture, though they reach a detente when Vladimir gives Dalibor an Iron Cross ring for Christmas, quips cheerfully about “turning Gypsies into asphalt” and takes him shooting.
There’s a slightly theatrical air to some of these encounters — remember, “documentary play,” not “documentary” — which adds a fascinating performance element to already offbeat, tricksy material (it’s not surprising to see there’s a credit thanking Joshua Oppenheimer, director of meta-doc masterpiece “The Act of Killing”). Even outside the film’s overtly fascistic moments, Klusák has an eye for tellingly human, idiosyncratic detail: Vera assiduously removing the chocolate from a stack of Magnum ice-creams and rewrapping them in tinfoil, or Dalibor rolling his eyes when Vera, on the lookout for her skinhead lug of a son, buzzes the front door open before he can get his key out.
Klusák’s approach allows DP Adam Kruliš an unusual degree of control over his compositions, with the result that the film looks better than the shaky, handheld aesthetic we’ve come to expect of more spontaneous documentary filmmaking. While “Daliborek” doesn’t achieve the level of the symmetrical formalism of Austrian taskmaster Ulrich Seidl’s hybrid docs “In the Basement” and “Safari,” there’s something of the same ironic, representational remove. Until, that is, the ending, where Klusák shows his hand (and his face, briefly) and intervenes when, on a visit to Auschwitz, Dalibor starts to hector a death camp survivor about the veracity of her testimony.
In press notes, Klusák explains this sudden abnegation of his film’s equivocal perspective by saying simply “I had to. It was unbearable.” And he’s not wrong. Like the moment when Vera wonders aloud if the infamous photo of the drowned refugee boy lying face-down on the beach was actually posed using “a dummy,” (which inevitably calls to mind similarly toxic “Newtown was staged” conspiracy theories peddled by the American alt-right), it’s a sobering reminder that these dangerous delusions don’t crumble to dust outside this hermetically sealed White World. They can infect, and cause actual harm, in the real world too.
By the end of Klusák’s very funny film, we’re definitely not laughing anymore. But one nagging question lingers: Why did the subjects agree to participate in a project that at best makes them objects of ridicule and at worst the targets of fully justifiable outrage? Their lack of self-awareness is little short of staggering. Then again, perhaps the world has devolved so far that Dalibor can believe there are enough people out there who support his repugnant, nonsensical ideology of scattershot hatred. It’s a very frightening thought that, although he’s not the sharpest tool in the box, he may even be right about that.