Now something from the Filmmakers of the Present, a section for first and second features. This would be at least Achim Bornhak’s third feature if letterboxd is to be believed – I see an oil-driller bomb-thriller from 1998 and a commie/model/groupie biopic in 2007. The director now goes by Akiz, because the name Bornhak allows for cheap puns in English-language reviews.

A thumping dance beat movie with strobey lights – Gaspar Noe influenced? Three girls, speaking German, attend a party and become concerned that a Tommy Gnosis-looking boy they know has shown up. Leaving the party in handheld wide-angle, Tina gets super-killed by a passing car while picking up a necklace – or she had a premonition of this happening – or she saw a cellphone video of it happening to someone else and simply passed out.

Either way, Tina isn’t quite the same when she gets home, having nightmares of a creature that raids her parents’ fridge at night. Her psychiatrist tells her to touch the beast and prove it’s real, so she does, and it is – and it’s blind and clumsy, and psychically linked to Tina, so she starts taking care of it until they’re discovered and separated by the government. So Tina dresses for a night at the club and heads to the hospital for a covert rescue operation.

Or maybe it’s Neon Demon influenced, I dunno, it seems somehow derivative even though I keep naming films that came out after this. Cutting back and forth on the beat between domestic/hangout scenes and club scenes is cool, but mostly reminded me of that great Michael Smiley episode of Spaced, and the movie is probably much more enjoyable if you can stand rave music.

Deliberate opening scene in an office lobby (“Is this how you want to live your life?”), then at a bar (“Are you a doctor? You have a pager”), aha so it’s a period piece. Woman in the bar wants to seduce the doctor while telling him an unnecessarily long story about her friend Luz, and their performances, the dialogue, none of it is working for me, then she takes him to the restroom and mouth-flashlights her spirit into him, and things are looking up.

In the long middle section, the doc and two other authority figures have got Luz hypnotized, re-enacting the taxi ride where the girl from the bar went missing. The doctor is freaked out and his weird influence begins to spread, until everyone in the room is somewhat possessed except the terrified soundman locked in his booth.

I honestly don’t know what happened or who is still alive at the end or why – only a few drawn-out things happen in this short movie, but they happen in multiple ways, and with cool light and sound. It’s also another pleasingly soft-looking movie (though none of the locations are interesting)… I didn’t intend to watch two 16mm movies in a row after Chained For Life, just a bit of good luck.

Been a long time since Too Early, Too Late, so it’s time to give some more Straub/Huillet films a watch, via the lovely new Grasshopper blu-ray. The first five minutes is about the least visually dynamic thing imaginable, but I like the sound recording of the answering choir. Then a long circular pan across a boring landscape, but at least the blue sky is nice. Looking on the bright side here.

Moses (guy in red pajamas with staff) meets A(a)ron (green headband) in the desert, and they bellow-sing at each other, presumably trying to mesmerize the other with their cadence and beards. Staff is turned into snake… Moses turns leprous and back again. The people are extremely confused after Moses leads them away then disappears for over a month, and Aaron tries to talk them down, but screws it up. They sing about the old and new gods as the picture goes all violet… oh no, they butcher a cow during their little knife dance. I was not expecting the phrase “Holy is genital power.” When Moses gets back, he and A. argue over the best way to teach these idiot people. Discussion of how to use words and images to express larger ideas to the idiots = CINEMA!

I only halfway followed this movie… honestly, have no idea what bible story, if any, it’s retelling, and I have no practice in following stories told in opera, even with the aid of subtitles. But it had been a long, unsatisfying work day, and on the drive home I thought of a bunch of movies I could watch, and this is the one that stood out. Straub/Huillet movies aren’t exactly my bag, but they’re not bad, and my total inability to figure out what they’re on about, plus their weird stasis and precision makes them extremely relaxing to watch. Aaron also has dreamy eyes… but the soundtrack was hit or miss (from my notes while watching: “ban woodwinds”). Based on the unfinished opera by modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Ted Fendt in the liners:

Schoenberg was unable to write music for this [third] act of his opera. The impossibility of resolving the opera’s central issue or committing fully to one side could have been the cause. Works whose internal contradictions resisted them, resisted easy solutions, fascinated Straub and Huillet. Unresolved tensions abound in their work…


Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene” (1972)

Sort of an essay film. Some abrupt cuts and blackouts mid-speech. Music rises up halfway through. Majority of the film in b/w and in a recording booth. Brecht and other writers are mentioned… Schoenberg is mad about Kandinsky. It covers a lot of ground in 15 minutes.

Official description is needed for context: “a fierce condemnation of anti-Semitism and the barbaric war machine of capitalism, inspired by a letter written in 1923 by composer Arnold Schoenberg to painter Wassily Kandinsky.”


Machorka-Muff (1962)

“A satirical attack on West Germany’s re-armament and revival of militaristic tradition in the Adenauer era.” The most commercial-looking movie I’ve seen by them – based on a Heinrich Böll novel, as was Not Reconciled. Wikipedia may know why Böll was popular with the Straubs: “Böll was particularly successful in Eastern Europe, as he seemed to portray the dark side of capitalism in his books; his books were sold by the millions in the Soviet Union alone.” He would win a Nobel less than a decade after these adaptations came out.

“Maybe I’d have an affair with his wife… I’ve an appetite for petit bourgeois erotics sometimes.” We follow a general who is dedicating a building to a military bigwig who is posthumously judged a greater leader when it’s discovered that more of his men died in battle than was previously thought. Their debut short, and the only movie performance by Erich Kuby (a writer, journalist and “an important opponent of German rearmament”).


Not Reconciled (1964)

A boy is often beaten up at school – this isn’t shown, but discussed by a rapidfire narrator. A blonde hotel boy encounters a sheep-crazy knitting cult. Two identical-looking dudes out for lunch, the one in the lighter suit was darker-suit’s tormentor as a kid. Now architect Fahmel is narrating for us… I think we’re hopping between time periods… and it all ends in attempted murder. In general, I’m pretty sure I need to be smarter about European history and culture and politics to keep up with these movies, something they have in common with Godard. I can’t tell if it’s a stylistic choice for everyone to speak flatly, or if that’s just Germans… probably the former, since I know Bresson was an influence. The sound always matches camera angle, no attempt to smooth it out with room tone or make audio consistent between shots. From anyone else I’d assume it’s a technical limitation or lack of professionalism, but from these two I’m sure it’s a political position.

Thanks very much to Neil Bahadur for helping me make sense of this:

Not Reconciled charts a single family in two separate timelines – post World War 1 and post World War 2 – throughout these two timelines events will mirror each other and fold into the present of 1965. Virtually an attack on Germany more vicious than any Fassbinder picture, the purpose is to show the incompatibility of a democratic structure with the new ideas of the 19th and 20th century: communism and fascism. Straub shows us a post-war world where left and right never united after the collapse of both the German Empire and Nazism, and both periods lead (and presumed will lead) to essentially an internal and invisible cold war between classes and ideologies as both sections ascend to bourgeois standards of living – and in the first case, ends up leading to the failure of the left and the rise of fascism. The gun that goes off at the end of the film (in the present of 1965) is the only thing that prevents this.


Nick Pinkerton in Frieze:

The cinematic translation or transcription of texts – poems, letters, fragments, musical scores – is key to Straub-Huillet’s filmmaking practice, which began not in France but in Munich, where the couple landed in 1958 after Straub was faced with prison for his refusal to serve in the Algerian War. (They always put their money where their mouths were politically, and Straub has also crammed his foot in his gob more than a few times.)

“Despite the tendency to reduce their films to a uniform asceticism, there is no such thing as a typical Straub-Huillet film.”

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927)

Opens with exciting abstractions, sunrise and shapes seen through blinds, then we catch a
train into Berlin and it chills out for a while, the depopulated city reminding me creepily of In My Room before people start to wake up and head to work (more trains), then the movie amps up again, the mass production lines looking very much like the ones I see on the Machine Pix twitter feed 100 years later. This movie probably works better as a city-story than Man with the Movie Camera does, though I love the fanciful effects and meta-scenes of the latter.

German Harold Lloyd:

In act II, telephone users and operators are compared to chattering monkeys and fighting dogs. I’d noticed a brief animal comparison in act I and shrugged it off, since a “symphony of a great city” wouldn’t do that to its people? Lunch, siesta, play – then hurry back to work, with a focus on newspapers. Motion of the day is exaggerated by strapping a camera to a rollercoaster.

Ruttmann died in WWII. He worked with Lotte Reiniger and Leni Riefenstahl, apparently knew Oskar Fischinger, and made a dream sequence in Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen. Music by Eisenstein collaborator Edmund Meisel, cinematography by Murnau’s DP Karl Freund, conceived by Caligari writer Carl Mayer – everyone in silent cinema knew each other.

I also watched Ruttmann’s earlier Opus series…


Opus I (1921)

Ghostly motion blobs against a dirty dark background
About four different motions, mirrored, colored and repeated
A third of the way through, new shapes and variations, and more at a time
Next part adds dyed searchlights and sun pendulums and tumblecubes
The shapes never quite interacting, just almost


Opus II (1921)

The same shapes on more charcoaly textures, and with more interaction between shapes
Black and white with some soft blue and a shock of red towards the end


Opus III (1924)

Some new cube overlays and color pulsations look almost 3D
Factory-machinery rectangles then a blue field with 3D blob rotation in the center
The same Red ending as II


Opus IV (1925)

Pulsing horizontal blinds with walking verticals mixed in later – faster and faster till pale purple blobs take over, then the traditional red ending. More advanced music on this one, by Helga Pogatschar – I hadn’t noticed that each film has a different musician. Rewatching the opening of Berlin, there are the blinds and the blobs, like a mini Opus V.

Opens handheld with a total Veep gag, an incompetent newsman who turns the camera off whenever he meant to turn it on. Our newsman Armin (Hans Löw, who had a small part in Toni Erdmann) takes a girl home from a bar, makes an ass of himself and she ditches. He goes home to be with his father and dying grandma. Then he falls asleep by the river, and wakes up as the last man on earth.

The movie is into long takes, but not absurdly showy long takes (though a dizzy race through abandoned streets in a stolen sports car is impressive). The sounds of dying grandma, and a dying dog the next day, are prominent and awful, and seem to soundtrack Armin’s helplessness. But then there’s a jump forward by an unknown amount of time…

Michael Sicinski in Cinema Scope:

In cinematic terms, Köhler’s treatment of Armin’s survival is highly unique in that he solves almost all of his major crises in an undefined but clearly substantial temporal ellipsis. Following the time gap, Köhler gives us a completely transformed Armin. In a nearly silent second act, we see that Armin has lost weight, become a skilled horseman, and, most astonishingly, built … a deluxe home with running water, solar panels, a menagerie of useful farm animals, and most importantly, fully reliable shelter from the elements.

Armin has a gas generator but is working on getting his hydroelectric going, to be fully self-sufficient. That old helpless Armin is still with us at times, like when his newborn goat (more notable sound effects: the mama goat giving birth) is stolen by a dog. This is Armin’s introduction to the only other person in the latter half of the movie, Kirsi (Elena Radonicich). And even though the movie has constructed a little paradise for these two survivors, when old “civilized” Armin starts creeping back, Kirsi decides to get back on the road.

Played Cannes in the Certain Regard with Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Rafiki and Border. Ulrich Köhler made Sleeping Sickness, and is not Ulrich Seidl who made that Safari film at True/False – I will try to stop getting my Ulrichs confused. His romantic partner Maren Ade is a producer, and I just saw her name on Synonyms as well.

As for what it all means, see the Sicinski article. Köhler:

For me, the interesting point is that a character who refused to adapt to a bourgeois lifestyle starts building a future once the society he didn’t want to be part of disappears.

Only a couple minutes after Buster Scruggs ended, the opening titles of this movie announced that it’s a story told in six chapters – what are the odds? Unexpected suicides in both movies too. It’s not that I wanted a faithful remake, since the plot is the weakest thing about Argento’s Suspiria, but what made them turn a bonkers Italian horror about witches in a dance studio into a 2.5-hour movie set in Berlin during the Baader-Meinhof hijacking, with long sections about a psychiatrist who lost his wife in the Holocaust? What’s the meaning of Tilda Swinton playing both Evil Mothers in charge of the studio and also the psychiatrist? Nice plot twist with Dakota Johnson (the older sister in Bad Times at the El Royale) appearing to be the fresh-meat new girl with especially good dance-murder skills, later revealed to be the reborn Mother Suspiriorum come to cleanse the school by killing one or both Tildas. I mean, this was a lot of movie for a single weeknight, so I think that’s what happened. I have mixed feelings, but pretty sure I need to keep watching all of Luca’s movies (this is my second of the year).

Chloe Grace is a paranoid escaped dancer in the opening scenes, then disappears forever, followed shortly by suspicious Olga, who gets gnarled up in the practice room. Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness) is the dancer who shows Dakota around, and Jessica Harper cameos as the psychiatrist’s dead wife. Most unexpected name in the credits: The Turin Horse cinematographer Fred Kelemen as one of the cops who Psych Tilda asks for help. Writer David Kajganich has also done a Body Snatchers remake and a Pet Sematary remake.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky compares it to “the movies Nicolas Roeg was making around the same time, confounding mosaics of predestination and psychoanalysis … It’s a movie where most of the characters are liminal figures, mid-phase between identities. It is packed with doors, mirrors, ceremonies, rehearsals, shared secrets, and make-up, suggesting commonalities between the backstage world and the supernatural through collage.”

“This might sound strange, but the whole social infrastructure is slowly crumbling.”

This could be a companion piece to Collapse – it’s another monologue/interview with a lone man about how fragile and doomed our economic system is. Filmed evocatively in the empty office spaces of an abandoned bank, Rainer Voss was a top investment banker, now washed up and telling all about the operations, the personalities, the daily work life, the lies they told to their customers and themselves.

“Is deregulation to blame? No. Was it a prerequisite? Yes.”

He also discusses his family life, and sounds like a terrible dad. For the first half I thought his scarf was a fashion statement, then I realized it’s winter and the empty building is unheated. This movie sounds dry from a description, but people like me who are sure that society as we know it is dying, but not sure how it’s gonna go down, ought to find it gripping

“What I want is to live in a way that suits me.”

A philosophical movie starring Kim Min-hee, who has become my favorite actress at playing drunk. Part one is a half hour long and set in Germany, actress Younghee hanging out with a friend (Young-hwa Seo, Hill of Freedom‘s letter-reader) – turns out the actress is fleeing Seoul after an affair gone bad. They go music shopping, then eat pasta at Mark Peranson’s house (with a La Chinoise poster in the kitchen). In the dreamlike final scene, Younghee is left on the beach at night alone for just a minute then is seen being carried away unconscious, presumably by the stalker we’d previously seen walking at them It Follows-style.

Part two opens with the lights coming up at a movie theater and no mention of the beach incident. She has returned to her hometown in Korea and meets up with some old friends, first at a coffee shop some of them run, then for a dinner party. First there’s Hae-hyo Kwon (the prickly guy in part one of In Another Country) then meek Jae-yeong Jeong (main dude in Right Now, Wrong Then). She’s staying at a fancy hotel with friend Seon-mi Song (The Day He Arrives), who decides to be Younghee’s assistant. Younghee is taking a break from her career and daily routines, evaluating her life, but doesn’t seem to be doing too badly – rumors are the director she recently broke up with is worse off. Back at the beach alone, not quite at night but perhaps the early evening, she dreams a meeting with the director (I think he’s the professor from Oki’s Movie) after his crew stumbles across her, and he wants to read her a book passage about love with the crew sitting awkwardly around.

The stalker from part one reappears as a window washer:

It’s a good Hong movie, probably not my favorite, but viewers who follow his personal news were mostly stunned that he made this Kim Min-hee movie about the aftermath of a scandalous affair with a film director right after getting caught having a scandalous affair with Kim Min-hee.

Right before True/False I watched a few knotty films that I’m having trouble writing about. This was the most alluring of the bunch, and though The Challenge played last year’s fest, and The Disaster Artist is a feature about real people making a feature, and Wormwood is a semi-doc with reenactment footage about the impossibility of knowing real truth, somehow Western is the one that I feel best exemplifies the spirit of the month. It’s a fiction film with non-actors, delicately balancing a mix of tones and ideas, usually beautiful and unaccountably tense though there’s not much action (reminded me of La Ciénaga in that regard).

Meinhard is a quiet mustache guy on a German work crew on a job in Bulgaria. His compatriots spend their downtime drinking and harassing the locals, while M. spends time alone, finds a horse and rides it into town, and over the next few weeks drifts ever closer to the locals, particularly horse owner and local business bigwig Adrian. Negotiations and conflict over the treatment of local women, shipments of stone, use of water, and the horse, most of which come down to German foreman Vincent on one side, and Adrian’s group on the other with M. floating between.

But much of the movie is quiet and peaceful, a highlight being the easygoing conversations Meinhard has in town with people who don’t know each others’ languages:
“I lost a brother.”
“You’re saying something sad.”

Meinhard:

Adrian:

Also a reference by the Germans to being back in the country after 70 years – that would be Bulgaria’s alliance with the nazis… a scene of tough guys around a campfire remarking on the softness of one’s hair… and already the second movie I’ve seen this year with Bulgarian folk dancing. Played Cannes UCR with the Cantet, the Kurosawa, the Amalric, the Rasoulof.

Andrew Chan in Cinema Scope called it “a subtle variation on the western’s themes of individuality, community, and male aggression, using these timeless tropes to frame the cultural fissures in modern-day Europe.” Grisebach, from the interview:

I was happy when I found this premise of German construction workers living in a foreign country, because I felt that then I had something more ambivalent. I am always afraid when something is too direct — I don’t trust it anymore. For me it’s not easy to say that something is like this or like that. I was really interested in how xenophobia exists between the lines, how it isn’t so direct, and how this contrasts with the official ways of telling history in Germany.