Posts Tagged ‘Austrian’

Earth | Erde (2019) **** Berlinale | Forum 2019

DIR: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Austria | Doc, 115′

Austrian documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter explores man’s monstrous impact on our planet by examining seven places particularly under siege.

Geyrhalter is a deep thinker who takes a world view and paints on a grand canvas to convey his weighty themes. And although his topics are not always palatable or easy to digest. His concerns are basic yet far-reaching: migration (The Border Fence), Nature vs. Man (Homo Sapiens); health (Danube Hospital); food prodcution (Our Daily Bread) and the 24 hour society (Abendland). Standing back from his subject matter and quietly recording the facts, his ambivalence allows us time and space to consider and form our own ideas.

EARTH is his eighth feature length film in ten years. Divided into 7 chapters, it is another ambitious, immaculately crafted, high end experience, yet the people who inhabit the film are practical, sharing mundane thoughts and experiences as he films them in long takes in the centre of the frame. Then the screen opens up to vast panoramas and then aerial views of mines and construction sites in California’s San Fernando Valley, Fort McKay, Alberta); the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy; Gyongos, Hungary; Carrara, Italy where the white marble comes from; Rio Tinto copper mines in Spain; and Wolfenbuttel, Germany. Gigantic machines crawl like behemoths on the face of the earth, digging and puncturing – not to mention the occasional explosion. It’s a hostile and even frightening sights as man plunders and probes.

Artistically and logistically bold, and ecologically troubling, the film is a mammoth endeavour. And non of the workers and experts who enliven this ecological study  with their comments admit to being largely ignorant of what they will find next as they scour and delve deeper and deeper into the earth’s core. An Italian worker in Carrara expresses his sorrow for taking giant blocks of marble away from its mountain home commenting:. Soon there won’t be anything left and our ancestors will have to move on the Moon.

The doc, divided into seven chapters of roughly fifteen minutes each, examines man’s devastating impact on the fabric of the plant Earth, endlessly chipping away and scar the landscape, Earth sees man taking over the natural environment, in contrast to Homo Sapiens that sees man’s claiming back its territory. But as the film wears on the ethical issues raised become more and more critical: “Are we a good species”? asks one expert. And one feels that the answer if possibly a clear “no”. We have fetched up on the planet and largely abused it for our owns ends. In the ‘Anthropocene’ era, our incessant intrusion on the natural environment seen through deforestation, mining and construction, together with the use of deleterious man-made materials such as plastic have no doubt led to climate change and pollution of the seas and nature.

There’s a surreal, rhythmic feel to this non-ruminative film. Geyrhalter acknowledges it all with a distant non-judgemental eye, more concerned with the labouring workers whose feint grasp of the apocalyptic enormity of their imprint often beggars belief in the scheme of things. MT


Shirley, Visions of Reality (2013)**** | Bluray release

Director: Gustav Deutsch | Cast: Stephanie Cumming, Christoph Bach, Tom Hanslmaier, Florentin Groll, Elfriede Irrall | Austria | Drama | 89′

In Shirley, Visions of Reality Austrian architect and filmmaker Gustav Deutsch daringly imagines a story behind thirteen of Edward Hopper’s most famous realist portraits of American life during the 1930s.

The Iconic artist was probably best known for his urban and rural scenes of detachment such as “Nighthawks’ and ‘New York Movie’. Deutsch opens each vignette – literally tableaux vivants – with a pithy news bulletin setting the scene for the unfolding, fictitious story of an actress whose unique experience takes place in New York from 1931 – 1963, and is immaculately filmed by cinematographer Jerzy Palacz, and gracefully performed by Canadian actress Stephanie Cumming (who looks rather like Jessica Chastain), her voiceover delivering the story from her unique POV. Her boyfriend Steve occasionally appears but remains silent but expression-filled.

Deutsch maintains the same calm frigid detachment from his subject matter. In this discrete and beguiling curio, the intrinsic feel of Hopper’s work is maintained by the garish brightness of starkly colourful interior scenes, envisioning a life beyond the isolation depicted in the soulless settings, occasionally accompanied by Christian Fennesz’ atmospheric score. In “New York Movie” Shirley muses vacantly over the life of a bored cinema usherette while “Intermission” sees her actually watching a French film with the comment: “intermission, like waking up from a dream”. Shirley projects no personality and is merely a elegant cypher frozen in an eerie time-warp as she muses reflectively over the historic milestones of the Depression, the Second World War, Civil Rights Activism and Vietnam, somehow creating a quiet sense of suspense in this sensuous and strangely affecting film.  MT



The Dreamed Ones (2016) | DIE GETRÄUMTEN

Director: Ruth Beckermann

Cast: Anja Plaschg, Laurence Rupp; Austria 2016, 89 min.

Vienna born director Ruth Beckermann (East of War), explores the relationship between the Romanian born Jewish poet and author Paul Celan and the Austrian poet and writer Ingeborg Bachmann and the unsurmountable emotional conflicts brought about by different parental influences. Celan was a Jew whose parents were murdered in the Holocaust and Bachmann was the child of a committed Nazi.

Beckermann has chosen an interesting structure: two actors read the letters between the couple, dating from 1948 to 1967; including the ones from Bachmann which she never posted. Between the readings, the actors Anja Plaschg (Bachmann) and Laurence Rupp (Celan) talk and smoke and wander around in Vienna’s “Funkhaus” (Broadcasting House) listening to concert rehearsals and dining in the cafeteria. Their discussions are earnest and give the impression of genuine conflict resolution.

Celan and Bachmann only spent a few months living together in the late 1940s, but they were obsessed with each other. Bachmann had great difficulty committing to any long-term relationships, and Celan’s hesitant nature was no help. But the main stumbling block was their rivalry as poets and writers. Both were writing in German, and as members of the literature circle “Gruppe 47” they were fierce competitors. Celan had written the Holocaust poem ‘Death Fuge’ (Todesfuge) in 1945, which was published in 1948. In 1953 Bachmann won the “Gruppe 47” award for ‘Die gestundete Zeit” (The extended hours), while just a handful voted for Celan’s ‘Death Fuge’. As Celan put it: just six people remembered my name. To make matters worse, Böckler, a critic of the West Berlin paper “The Tagesspiegel”, criticized Celan’s “dead language” and insinuated the poet “ gets away with it, because of his race”. This sort of reaction was not uncommon in West Germany after the war where the majority of Germans, including intellectuals, felt sorry for themselves, and transferred their repressed guilt for the Holocaust into attacks on Jews.

Both Bachmann and Celan had two major relationships during their involvement and avid exchange of letters: Celan was married to the French aristocrat Gisèle de Lestrange, with whom he had a child. Bachmann lived with the Swiss writer Max Frisch in Zurich and Italy. Dominated by hatred and self-hatred, their obsession with each other was to end in tragedy: Celan committed suicide in 1970 drowning in the Seine. Bachmann, addicted to Barbiturates, literally set herself alight with a cigarette in bed, and died three weeks later in Rome.

Their mainly unfulfilled love was typically for the decades after the end of WWII, when the emotional chasm between the victims (or their children) of the Holocaust and the Nazis (and their children) was simply too much of a hurdle to overcome, however strong their feelings for each other. Celan and Bachmann simply stood no chance: history overcoming their love .

DOP Johannes Hammel creates loving close-ups of the ‘couple’, and his matter-of-fact shots of the “Funkhaus”, where broadcasting history has been made for the last 90 years or so, is a reminder that these ordinary-looking places have witnessed a violent and changing history. THE DREAMED ONES is a chronicle of despondency and unfulfilled desires in a time over-shadowed with a past which not only lead to the death of millions, but also poisoned the lives of innocent survivors like Celan and Bachmann. AS



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