Wolfsbergen (2007)

16 03 2008

More of the same from Nanouk Leopold, which is to say, another really well-made film. My problems with her films can’t be explained really, as a fan of both Tsai and Haneke, I’m suppose to love Leopold. To a degree, I do. She makes wonderful films and of the two I’ve seen, both are filled with hauntingly poignant and beautiful sequences. Yet, everything that I love in this simply doesn’t hit me as much as it should. I like it, but I know I should like it more and I’ll feel like punching myself in the face until I understood why I don’t love it as much as something like say, The Wayward Cloud.

Through a series of connected vignettes, the film tells the story of a dissolving modern family. An elderly man, Konraad, has written a letter to his children and grandchildren, in which he informs them of his suicidal intentions. This comes at a bad time for everyone, because everyone (really!) has their own set of personal problems. His daughter, Maria,  had recently undergone plastic surgery but she’s hiding this from her husband, Ernst, who is a dentist. Eva, one of Konraad’s granddaughters, is lonely and feels like crying every time she goes out in public. Meanwhile, the other granddaughter, Sabine, seems to be living much more peacefully. Instead, she is hiding her depression brought on by a marriage to Onno, by participating in an affair.

There’s so many great touches added by Leopold to increase that truthful pain in a scene. For example, Onno and Sabine’s daughter also seems to be going through a rough patch. We often see a long static shot of her face with her parents arguing in the background. It’s simple to add stuff like that, but it’s also completely effective. Of course, it’s also probably a result of some wonderful acting. Maria’s reaction to her father’s letter is something that really has to be seen to be believed.

So now you can understand why I’m so upset that I don’t love this. It’s beautifully observant, poignant, and has a very accessible episodic structure. Despite all this, it does seem a bit too strict in a stylistic sense. This is a completely false accusation on my part, as the camera moves more here than it does in a Tsai film, but the difference is merely in how I interpret things. In a Tsai film, it’s a bit more easy-going in an odd way, though definitely creates a tension between the viewer, usually it’s a negative one. I like Haneke for the most part as well, and I’d say Leopold’s sensibility is closer to his. The episodic structure may remind me one of 71 Fragments or Code Unknown. The problem may possibly lie in the fact that Haneke’s films are willingly “cold” (or some similar abstract adjective) and usually have a very bleak feeling towards them. He gets mixed in a lot with people like Gaspar Noe, who ironically enough, seems to have had a visual influence on this film.

Wolfsbergen is a very compassionate film about human interaction and alienation (and other big themes) but it also uses that de-saturated visual style that triggers my brain to tell me “something violent is going to happen!” This is a bit silly as criticism, though, no? The only problem I can think up is an aesthetic that my brain just automatically associates with a colder style of filmmaking: along the lines of Haneke and Noe or even David Fincher; I think Tsai, while similar, is actually compassionate, not to mention his films also look more natural. Perhaps my problem is that I really don’t like that bleached out look but other than that, I really couldn’t ask much more from a film.

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