Friday, June 15, 2018

Der Felsen / A Map of the Heart

Der Felsen / A Map of the Heart. Antonio Wannek (Malte) and Karoline Eichhorn (Katrin).

Director: Dominik Graf
Country: Germany
Year: 2002
Duration: 2.02
Languages: de, en, fr, sv
    35 mm transferred from DV. In German with e-subtitles in English.
    In the presence of Dominik Graf hosted by Olaf Möller.
    Viewed at the School, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä, 15 June 2018

MSFF: "During a vacation in Calvi, Jürgen tells his lover Katrin that he’ll leave her to stay with his wife and kids – and vanishes. Katrin, now more alone than ever, drifts through the city’s hot days and hotter nights, enjoying among other things the amorous attention of two soldiers from the Foreign Legion. An encounter with teenage boy Malte (who’s doing time in a detention centre for juvenile delinquents run by the FRG on Corsica) sets her life on a path most unexpected…"

"The second half of the 90s were a tough period for Graf who, a bit like Katrin, felt that he’d lost his way. Experimenting with a new form (cf. Das Wispern im Berg der Dinge) offered one way out, another the use of a new technology: DV. Part of Der Felsen’s wild and unruly genius lies in its mix of pictures so pixely they look as if they’d been painted with sand with a full-blown orchestral score that seems to come from another cinematic universe. But that’s what makes Graf’s work in general so unique: He loves to hybridize what’s normally kept separate, play with expectations, make each film a voyage of (self-)discovery. Cinema, for Graf, is an on-going experiment – and so is life. Which makes Der Felsen almost a manifesto for Graf’s art." (Olaf Möller)

AA:  A crime story, a tragic love story set at Calvi in Corsica, directed by Dominik Graf and written by him with Markus Busch. A sense of landscape is essential: the presence of the sea, the rugged magnificence of the inner mountains. I was thinking about Henri Roussel's L'Île enchantée. The sturdy sea fortresses evoke memories of other Mediterranean stories, from Abel Gance's Napoléon to the Château d'If in The Count of Monte Cristo. Der Felsen, the original name of the film, means "The Rock", also relevant to the stories of Malte and Kai, inmates at a center for German juvenile delinquents.

The cinematographer is Benedict Neuenfels, and the film was shot on digital video which had become fashionable during the Dogme 1995 movement. It is a format I instinctively abhor. I seldom have headaches, but a theatrical film shot on handheld DV easily gives me one. Der Felsen goes one step beyond: it is a study of a one big headache. Katrin has been expecting Jürgen to get a divorce but when Jürgen's wife gets pregnant he decides to leave Katrin instead.

This leaves Katrin in a deep state of shock, and Der Felsen is a kind of a waking nightmare. The DV quality conveys this haze powerfully. Visually, Der Felsen is an experimental film in Stan Brakhage territory. The mind-altering trauma reverberates forcefully and sensually, most unforgettably in thunderstorm scenes and in the night flight to the mountain paradise.

Der Felsen is a tale of transgressions. Katrin is a technische Zeichnerin by profession: she makes technical drawings, and she demonstrates to Malte her skill at drawing straight lines by freehand. Now Katrin courts danger, first in the company of two Foreign Legionnaires (a happy escapade). Then in the company of juvenile delinquents from a camp called Brave New World. Later Katrin finds out that Malte has murdered his father in a sadistic way. Both Katrin and Malte use each other, yet there is something beyond abuse. Katrin is fearless, she seems to have no self-protection instinct, and maybe she is on a self-destructive mode. At the same time there is a sense of the indomitable in her. An exceptional performance by Karoline Eichhorn.

Details are significant. The film starts with a Senegalese street vendor explaining the story-telling tradition of his country: from two objects you must spin a story. Dominik Graf keeps repeating his fetish objects: a coral ring, a bikini top, a postcard. They evoke mystery and alert us to other objects. Kai is a street thief whose stolen objects tell stories, too. Clues to mysteries, and in this case, tragedy.

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