Nachmittag (2007)

30 05 2008

I should (and perhaps, will) be kicking myself in the head for not enjoy this film as much as I should. It offers pretty much my favorite approach to filmmaking; long static shots with precise cutting. As much as I like Schanelec’s formalistic style, it doesn’t really fit well with the monologue-esque dialogue that this film is so heavily dependent on. All the actors give their lines in a believable, nuanced manner but the fact of the matter is, people need to shut up. A triumph in aesthetics, but a chore when it comes to caring about the characters.

Irene returns to her broken and separated family. She is out of touch with her son, Konstantin, a struggling writer. He’s still recovering from a nasty break-up with Agnes, who has returned after a semester away at college. Like with his mother, he is awkward and distant from Agnes, preferring to spend time to take care of Alex, who seems to be on the final point in his life. Tensions increase as Irene invites her boyfriend over. He intrigues Agnes, who ends up spending more time with him than Irene does, but alienates Konstantin.

It’s ironic that a film depicting the distance between people is captured in such a claustrophobic way. As mentioned before, the film is quite dependent on dialogue, but Schanelec seems to be developing a new aesthetic for scenes of conversation. I suppose one could say that such an austere, rigorous, and unorthodox approach is reminiscent of the great Yasujiro Ozu, which is fitting considering that this film does have a lot of similar family issues, though they are handled in a very different fashion. A more modern connection could be made to Jane Campion’s Sweetie, which also handles shot/reverse shot sequences in a unconventional way but these comparisons probably overshadow the fact that Schanelec is creating a new (and different) way of shooting conversation. As someone who generally likes films to downplay the importance of dialogue, I find such experimentation interesting, albeit very frustrating.

To come back to my original compliant, there’s simply too much talking and too much of it is too eloquent. Again, the film is based (very loosely) on an Anton Chekov play but even then. In a way, it really dillutes what could have been a fascinating character study because when someone launches into a monologue or a recount of some uneventful story, it feels like the filmmakers are just going through the motions. There are some truly wonderful sequences here such as the one where Agnes and Konstantin wander around the city. It’s one of the few scenes that seems to let the actors act without getting bogged down in a “serious” confrontation. For the most part, this is a really fantastic film that I’m probably just being harsh on for not perfectly meeting the standards of usual minimalistic filmmaking.

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