BONN -- For years, they stared at each other, communists and capitalists, across a wall of death. Suddenly peace broke out and the Germans became one big happy family once more.

Not so fast, dummkopf.

Behold "The German Chainsaw Massacre."

The Germans may have made it look easy, but the real messy business behind the merger of their two countries has finally been revealed on the silver screen.

"The First Hour of Reunification. They Came as Friends and Ended Up Cold Cuts."

With that clunky come-on, a new film by a young director named Christoph Schlingensief (previous work: a documentary on "The Last Hours of the Fuehrer's Bunker") has opened to sharp response.

Conservative critics are shocked at the film's deadpan contention that 4 percent of the East Germans who fled west after the opening of the Berlin Wall last year never arrived and instead ended up in the butcher shops of West Germany.

The director defends "Chainsaw" as an allegory about the cultural costs of unification. But the public, by and large, has dismissed it as trash. By Schlingensief's own reckoning, up to one-third of the viewers of the all-German bloodbath either walk out or otherwise show their displeasure. After the premiere in Berlin, hopping-mad cine'astes adjourned to a nearby kneipe, the German version of the corner saloon, and ripped it apart.

"Chainsaw" is "the fruit of a crazed anger and an equally crazed director," says the weekly magazine Quick.

Germany's most popular newspaper, the splashy Bild, is outraged by what it calls an abuse of public funds. Schlingensief had applied to two government film agencies seeking grants to make a movie about German unification. One agency gave him $40,000. Another awarded him $65,000.

What public money paid for is a charming tale of a young Leipzig woman who flees in her pathetic little East German-made Trabant, intent on moving to the West, where life is better, or, as the German saying goes, where the sausage hangs.

What she finds is a bloody hell.

The unsuspecting Klara is eventually hacked to pieces with a butcher knife as she lies on her car. There's also a spectacular close-up of the intestines bursting out of the belly of a young woman.

An officer of the East German Stasi secret police makes the mistake of placing his hand on a table, where it is promptly chopped off with an ax.

And in a climax of Teutonic-cum-Texan gore, sexual organs are sawed to pieces.

All the while, Chancellor Helmut Kohl stands by, grinning from ear to ear.

The government film agencies are thus far unperturbed. A spokeswoman says only that she liked the movie. And among the literati, the movie met some critical acclaim.

"Full of daring theories," says the intellectual weekly Die Zeit, generously comparing "Chainsaw" to the best of Fassbinder. Schlingensief is, according to the Zeit critic, "the chronicler of the German madness."

"It's all irony, of course," says the director. "You can easily see it's not real. There are a few disgusting scenes, yes. But they are artistically made comments on what reunification has done to this country."

What better way to show Germans that unification is also a division of people than to show butchers swinging axes and splitting bones, the director asks.

"I am no trash film fan," Schlingensief says. "I've made five other films, all serious. And I'm absolutely thrilled that the wall is gone."

"The cultural identity over there {in the East} had its own quality," the 30-year-old director says. "Their young people have stories to tell. After 40 years of being apart, the East Germans were like the Austrians or the Swiss -- German-speaking, but with their own culture and their own version of the language."

German reunification, Schlingensief says, is really unfolding as a brutal act, a forced marriage between two decidedly different peoples. Although East Germans did choose to join the West, the director believes that the hardships of unity -- the mass unemployment and anxiety in the East -- is being hidden by "a gloss of glamour and packaging."

"There are many people over there who are doing quite badly, and it's important to show, even in a humorous way, that everything about unification is not wonderful," he says.