Richard Burton, more intensely sad than I’ve ever seen him, is a spymaster-turned-spy, quitting British intelligence and hanging out with cute librarian Claire Bloom (The Haunting), but actually getting coached by Smiley (“just continue to be embittered, continue to drink”) in the hopes of being picked up by the Germans.
Took me a while to realize that they’d crossed into Germany. It’s established that Burton is fluent in German, but nobody speaks German in the movie, and even accents are rare… they simply keep speaking English, asking the viewer to imagine that it’s German. On the other side, the East Germans all act like they know Burton’s whole deal, but they’re plotting against each other and Burton intends to inflame their rivalry. Oskar “Jules” Werner is the black leather cap-wearing ambitious second in command to 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse star Peter van Eyck. As power and loyalties shift, I’m not sure that even Burton knows if the plot has gone off the rails, but apparently free and victorious at the end, he gets himself killed over the girl, leaving Smiley (Rupert Davies) and Control (Cyril Cusack, pathetic husband in Gone to Earth) needing to find a new sad drunken spy.
Mostly set in Berlin. Lydia’s former protege Krista has killed herself and “grooming” accusations have been made, wife Sharon is leaving and taking their kid, new cellist Olga might live in a crumbling ghetto or be a ghost. This joins Nope as a movie less satisfying in the moment than thinking about afterwards (and I’ll bet Nope would be more fun to rewatch). Really enjoyed the Dan Kois article in Slate. Shout out to Caroline Shaw!
Some things I wrote down:
absolute pre-war depravity
urgent manual camera movement mixed with drone shots, real bizarre
a cinephile nazi movie
german Inland Empire
Tom Schilling is our man, falling for barmaid law student Saskia Rosendahl (both actors from Never Look Away), getting fired from his cigarette advertising job, dealing with the suicide of rich political friend Albrecht Schuch (the new All Quiet on the Western Front). This would make a cool double-feature with Transit by Graf’s Dreileben buddy Petzold, both movies ending with a person waiting hopefully in a cafe waiting for someone who will never appear.
Frames within frames:
Hidden name on an artboard, gone when cutting to the next angle:
Hell of an accidental death for our man:
Schanelec movies suffer by reminding me of Zürcher movies just enough to make me wish I was watching those instead. This one isn’t as entrancing as it means to be, but slightly, seductively baffling. Down-and-out druggie couple starts out busking “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” before Kenneth is called home, his mom ailing in hospital, dad asking him to use his drug connections to find morphine for her. This first couple is last seen laying down on the earth, separately. Many years later a cop is leaving her husband, he rents his own place, and the time periods are mashing up in a non-obvious way.
Blake Williams in Cinema Scope:
… an amorphous, exceedingly enigmatic trance film masquerading as a puzzle film. Puzzles fit together; this does not … These temporal leaps we’re taken through … become equal to every other narrative element. … Time, then, beyond language, becomes the decisive medium that negotiates and complicates characters’ emotional relations to one another, and Schanelec’s avoidance of distinguishing between “now” and “then” insures that the impact of every loss, every ruptured relationship, is held in an eternal suspension.
On Letterboxd: “Virginia Woolf” by Robyn Hitchcock
It’s strange to see space alien Bruno S. playing someone besides Kaspar Hauser. Here he’s playing a version of himself, as are many of the actors, who autobiographically collaborated with Herzog on his hastily-written Germany-to-USA adventure. Reformed criminal/music lover Bruno helps Eva Mattes (Petra von Kant‘s daughter) while she’s on the run from her thug pimps (one of whom would later play Vigo in Ghostbusters II). The thugs barge in, assault Bruno and break his accordion. The neighbor who looks after Bruno (Kaspar Hauser fan-favorite Clemens) is leaving for Wisconsin, so Bruno and Eva join him.
Bad luck right off the bat as customs confiscates Bruno’s mynah bird (using its real voice, which is a big deal for birds in cinema). Werner discovers Weird Wisconsin immediately, filming two neighboring farmers on tractors with rifles. Bruno’s house is taken away for non-payment… not making enough cash as a waitress, Eva returns to prostitution and runs off with some truckers… and Clemens is arrested for robbery (the bank was closed so he robs the barber next door). Everything around him going to hell, poor Bruno wanders a live-bird amusement park then kills himself on a ski lift.
The credits thank Errol Morris, Les Blank and the documentarian who discovered Bruno in West Berlin. Supposedly Ian Curtis killed himself right after watching this movie, and yeah it’s a downer, but one night earlier I’d coincidentally watched New Order’s live set from Coachella 2013, and after seeing what a crank Bernard Sumner can be, I wouldn’t be so quick to blame the film.
Long takes of people moving slowly, dramatically across a single room, an air of seductive repression. The blu extras say he films “beautiful women suffering,” yet this is far more tolerable than the same year’s Bergman, which could be described the same way.
Petra is Margit Carstensen – I’ve seen her in Possession. She is very lazy, whining that her mom wants to borrow money, dictating a letter to Joseph Mankiewicz to her servant Marlene (Irm Hermann, a Fassbinder associate from the start). When friend Katrin Schaake visits she brings along young Hanna Schygulla. Hanna is married, husband off in Australia, seems unsophisticated. Petra gets her alone, offers her money and seduces her into a modeling job.
Katrin and Petra:
Hanna’s grand entrance:
Next time we see them, they’re gripey with each other and the power tables have turned, Hanna seeming to be in control of Petra’s actions and emotions. She learns that her husband has come to Germany, abruptly breaks up with Petra and leaves – so we saw their first and last day together. The next day Petra’s classist daughter visits (Eva Mattes, murdered wife of Woyzeck), Petra has a drunken breakdown in front of everyone, and Marlene finally leaves her.
I was reading “At the Existentialist Café” on the train…
Sartre put this principle into a three-word slogan, which for him defined existentialism: ‘Existence precedes essence’. What this formula gains in brevity it loses in comprehensibility. But roughly it means that, having found myself thrown into the world, I go on to create my own definition (or nature, or essence), in a way that never happens with other objects or life forms. You might think you have defined me by some label, but you are wrong, for I am always a work in progress. I create myself constantly through action, and this is so fundamental to my human condition that, for Sartre, it is the human condition, from the moment of first consciousness to the moment when death wipes it out. I am my own freedom: no more, no less.
So I thought from the title and poster that this would be a grand existentialist movie, and anyway it’s always a good time watching something with Franz Rogowski, but wrong on both counts. In 1945 Franz goes straight from the concentration camp into jail for being gay, bunks with Haneke regular Georg Friedrich. In 1957 Franz’s boyfriend Thomas Prenn dies, and the other prisoners can almost find it in their hearts to feel bad about it. In the late 60’s Franz keeps breaking rules in order to get thrown outside with young gay teacher Anton von Lucke (Frantz). Finally the law is overturned, Franz visits a jazz club and its subterranean Irreversible sex club, goes straight outside and smashes a jewelry store window to get thrown back into prison.
Franz with the teacher:
Rough going for the first half hour. Opens in a church, already a bad sign. White-haired Anke has just retired, calls her kids, a crappy phone call in a lovely town. Her pink-haired daughter spends time with her, going through photographs, reminiscing about when dad was alive, but her depressed son is stuck in Hong Kong because of the protests. The movie seems to be avoiding sync sound, feels remote. Just when I was ready to pull the plug, Anke flies to HK to visit him, and everything picks up – a German woman leaving her hostel and wandering into the umbrella protests is inherently more interesting than being sad at home.
So it’s one of those movies where a troubled person goes on a trip to someplace new, meets a bunch of friendly people who each reflect some part of the lead’s own life/journey. She never locates her son (her actual son is the director), but she does tai chi in the park with his doorman, the camera following their hands. Wow, a Brian Eno score, and last night’s movie was Jim O’Rourke, I’m hitting the modern composer/rocker jackpot. A couple nights later we watched Taming the Garden, which also could’ve been called Wood and Water.
Nina Hoss is an East German rural doctor, also smuggling money and saving up to escape. Coworker Ronald Zehrfeld is friendly to her, but she’s got a secret boyfriend and is being stalked by sinister Rainer Bock.
Excellent photography and compelling story, a delight to watch. I saved this one for a day when I needed a sure thing. In The White Ribbon, Bock was a doctor, and in Phoenix Hoss and Zehrfeld were married, and Transit has the same ending (lead character is able to escape but gives their chance away to another), all my German movies coming together. Starting to think that Casablanca was a formative influence on Petzold.