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.

Marlene:

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.

There is in fact a spider, also a cat and a couple dogs, and MVP: an owl in a tree. Mainly it’s a breakup movie, Lisa moving out of Mara’s place into her own new place, family and friends and neighbors turning out to help, and Mara lurking and sulking. Doesn’t exactly have a strong narrative drive – it does have that surprising sense of discovery in the camera angles and scene structure that I loved in The Strange Little Cat. For the first half I was thinking “ehh there’s not much here,” and in the second half: “I’m German now and everyone in this movie is my friend.” Speaking of German, while listening to the words I learned that Hans Zimmer’s last name is Room, and Carolee Schneemann’s is Snowman.

Blake in ‘Scope:

Character motivation and cause-and-effect logic is either nonexistent or gets buried beneath myriad layers of movement and spoken phrases that may or may not make any sense to us. We can only get caught up and washed along in the film’s beautiful display of things resuming, moving along, never being the same again … A cut in a Zürcher film, especially this one, is almost always a revealing, never a suture. It exposes the mark that we heard being etched; the angle that reconfigures our understanding of the spatial dynamics of the setting or environment; the beholder that we and/or the character couldn’t sense was present watching what we were watching — the subject we never knew our gaze belonged to. There’s an acknowledgment, shot to shot, cut to cut, that there is more to the world than what we can presently see or say that we know … And at the present moment, I can think of few worthier undertakings for a narrative cinema practice than one that challenges and is curious about the ways that humans perceive themselves, others, and the perceptions of others.

Cagney is a Serious Fast Talking Businessman who yells all his lines in Cold War Germany. He’s a Coca Cola executive (which means a lotta references to Atlanta), pitting pop culture and business against commie mentality. The German language jokes are sharp and funny, from former Berliner Wilder. Oscar nominated b&w cinematography by Daniel Fapp, who shot color oscar winner West Side Story the same year. The jokes and politics are good, as is most of the farce stuff, but Cagney is a disaster.

The daughter is with beau Horst Buchholz, just off The Magnificent Seven:

“You want the papers in triplicate or the blonde in triplicate?”
“See what you can do.”

Sexy secretary Ingeborg was in Rivette’s The Nun, the boss’s Southern party-girl daughter was in the following year’s State Fair, and her dad had been in Shockproof. The boss isn’t doing a Southern accent, exactly, but I like that all you can see out the window of his Atlanta office is parking lots. References to Omaha, La Dolce Vita, and Playboy.

Atlanta:

Commies:

Photojournalist Jack Nicholson isn’t having a great time in Saharan Africa, sees an opportunity and grabs it, stealing the identity of his suddenly deceased hotel neighbor, the only other white guy in town. Jack’s abandoned wife Jenny Runacre (The Final Programme, Jarman’s Jubilee) investigates, while Jack faithfully follows the dead guy’s appointment book, even after learning that he was an arms dealer, and meets the same fate as the guy he’s impersonating, though he gets to hang out with Maria Schneider along the way.

Maria, Jack, Gaudi:

Thought I’d seen this a long time ago, but maybe I’ve confused it with The Conformist again. MA: “Actually, the entire story takes place in a short period of one day, from early morning until some time before sunset” – that’s not true, it’s set in four countries and we see a UK newspaper article about Jack’s death in Africa, and we see Jack’s appointments spread across a week in the book. Maybe he meant as the film was originally written. The fourth movie I’ve seen in the last few years to play in the 1975 competition at Cannes. Argh, the execution footage in this wasn’t faked.

Las Ramblas: