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Akerman, Schanelec, Weerasethakul – retrospectives of 20th NH IFF

27/03/20
Cemetery of Splendour, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
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Chantal Akerman, Angela Schanelec, Apichatpong Weerasethakul in the program of 20th New Horizons IFF retrospectives.

Chantal Akerman

If I have a reputation for being difficult, it’s because I love the everyday and want to present it. In general people go to the movies precisely to escape the everyday, said Belgian director and visual artist Chantal Akerman (1950-2015) in 1982.

She was already known by that time as the director of the masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), where the protagonist is a single mother working as a prostitute, where the focus falls on her monotonous, repetitive, and quintessentially domestic life. Akerman directed the camera towards the most banal activities, radically including everyday life not only in the story, but also in the film’s structure and rhythm. She crafted this through long shots, without cutting the scenes of peeling potatoes or kneading meatballs, a unique choreography of the body moving between the living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, under the yoke of a domestic routine. And when her protagonist hides money earned from prostitution into a soup vase, it becomes clear that no one before Akerman so brilliantly combined the domestic microcosm with the macrocosm of economics and politics, not one had yet exposed so precisely the mechanisms of oppression experienced by women so ordinary that had so far been invisible to art.

She turned the cinema upside down, says legendary researcher Laura Mulvey. She revolutionized the language of the film, created feminist cinema, and showed an unknown female experience on the screen.

Interiors: kitchens, hotel corridors and rooms, railway compartments, stations, shopping centers and bars are her next important protagonists. Marked with melancholy and loss, these spaces resonate with loneliness and anxiety, the constant companions of the protagonists. She is interested in landscapes of interior life, landscapes of sadness. The constantly changing locales also trace the director’s nomadic life. Living between New York, Paris and Brussels, the artist who is constantly on the road has also made her style nomadic: she stepped between the cinema and the gallery, radically experimenting with style - she attempted to direct mainstream productions ( A Couch in New York, 1996), reached for comedy (the tragicomic American Stories, Food, Family and Philosophy, 1989), tested melodrama and musical (Golden Eighties, 1986). She is an essay master, an outstanding documentary filmmaker, author of numerous installations, who made works lasting over three hours as well as short films. She shot in France, Belgium, the United States, Mexico, Israel, Germany and Russia. In 1993, she made From the East, a portrait of Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. This part of the world interested her because of the fate of her parents - Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust. The Holocaust is a great theme of Akerman’s cinema, though often hidden, pulsing beneath the surface of seemingly neutral stories and images - such as the image of people waiting for a train in From the East.

But a momentous theme of her cinema is also the mother - the personification of the strongest bond, the most powerful oppression, a home lost and endlessly sought. It is no accident that her final film is entitled No Home Movie (2015). It is a documentary consisting of conversations with her mother, of course in the kitchen.

The Chantal Akerman retrospective will be accompanied by the publication of the Polish edition of the director's book, My Mother Laughs (Ma mère rit) and the performance of Chantal? by cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

The films and installations of outstanding Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul carefully observe the present, managing to erect a bridge to the past and the future. Weerasethakul exorcises history, conjures ghosts, blurs the line between dream and reality.

Art offers him space to work with memory and trauma. It is not, however, about plunging into the picturesque tropical fever or showing off a list of previous incarnations, but about an idyllic landscape in apparent peace where you can feel the vibrations of subcutaneous anxiety. His goal is to heal the wounds once inflicted, or to merely admit they were inflicted in the first place. Without this process communities or nations bog down in collective a dream, a group hallucination, depriving themselves of opportunities to grow. Thinking about the future always refers to the past, says the director, who perceives the spiritual life of the community as a psychological phenomenon, the art of communing and dealing with a violent history.

The director of the Cemetery of Splendor (2015), Mekong Hotel (2012), or perhaps the most famous of his achievements, which won the Golden Palm in Cannes, Uncle Boonmee, Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), meditates on the fate of his country, but universal mechanisms governing the collective and its subconscious can be easily found in his works. Weerasethakul is also a vigilant observer of modern conflicts. Modernity and tradition clash in his cinema and desire seeks a way to fully express itself. An unusual, innovative, auteur style the director has developed over the years through short films, documentaries, installations, photographs and plots was forged in the constant confrontation with the realities of modern Thailand. The oppressive political system forces him to reach for metaphors, develop his language of symbols, experiment with narration and thus escape these limitations.

For his latest film, Weerasethakul decided to shoot outside of Thailand for the first time. Memoria is set in Columbia, a country marked by the violence of colonization and drug war. The artist again took up the subject of trauma, inherited fears. But in a recent interview he admitted that he was fascinated by the spirit of resistance he found in Columbia. There is a strong tradition of protest, passed down from generation to generation, he said. Compared to Colombia, Thailand is like a child.

Angela Schanelec

Angela Schanelec is one of the key figures of the Berlin School along with Maren Ade, Christian Petzold and Valeski Grisebach. The formation emerged in the 1990s and influenced European and international arthouse Cinema in the most recent two decades through its avant-garde film language and accurate social criticism.

In her films, Schanelec primarily shows portraits of women and their experiences in neoliberal society. She looks closely at the changing social roles, dilemmas and challenges that women face in a rapidly changing world - as well as the price they pay for personal freedom and expanded field of activity. What forms do interpersonal relationships take in post-modern society? Schanelec investigates problems related to family, platonic and romantic relationships - revealing emotions that usually work in secret. Her films don't offer solutions, they ask questions. What is motherhood, what is love and what is loyalty in a world where traditional roles have already worn out while the new ones have yet to be written. Or maybe, at the deepest existential level, nothing has changed, because feelings evolve much slower than culture. The raw but sensitive way in which Schanelec looks at her oft-alienated characters exhibits their – and the director’s own – vulnerability, thanks to which she becomes not a critic, but an empathetic observer, a participant of modern life in the big city.

Her experience as an actress manifests itself in her anti-psychological way of leading actors and unique film language that is based not on dialogues, but on gestures and choreography. The world of fleeting gestures, hesitations and emotions that cannot be easily named is full of secrets. This is a very visual cinema in which the narrative is based on movement and images. Avant-garde - but not formal, because its ultimate goal is not visuality, but affect: the desire to reach those deeply hidden feelings.


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