Volume 20, Issue 8 / August 2016

From Parts of Europe

This issue is loosely grouped together around European cinema, encompassing the Nations Germany, Denmark, Russia, Hungary and Wales. Germany is represented by two films, or rather, two artists, actress/writer/director Margarethe von Trotta and musician Peter Baumann. Veteran of the New German Cinema, Margarethe von Trotta, no stranger to films based on important female personalities (Katharina Blum, Rosa Luxemburg), tackles the controversial life of political philosopher Hannah Arendt. Many Bio-pics stutter and fail because they try to cover the whole life of its subject, from childhood to old age, birth to death, failure to success. Margarethe von Trotta’s film about the German-Jewish scholar, writer, intellectual Hannah Arendt escapes this plot by concentrating mostly on Arendt’s most controversial work: her coverage of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann’s 1961 trials in Israel. Daniel Garrett helps to underscore the portrait Margarethe von Trotta attempts of Arendt as a strong willed thinker who places her own thought system above ideological repercussions, in this case her famous dictum “the banality of evil”, which many victims of the Holocaust felt was an inappropriate turn of phrase. Reality is also the basis of the Danish produced but set in Wales drama Bridgend, which is based on a rash of unexplained teen suicides that took place in recent years in the town of Bridgend, Wales. The film marks Danish director Jeppe Rønde’s first fiction feature (he has three documentary features under his belt), and it represents an impressive debut. Rønde’s film manages to evoke the harsh and tragic reality of these suicides but with the eyes and ears of a dark poet. Germany is again represented through the great electronic and prog rock musician Peter Baumann, formerly of Tangerine Dream. Although a veteran of many soundtracks, Mark Penny discusses how Baumann’s music can be understood in a broader visual sense, as music that conjures a cinema space of the mind. As a member of Tangerine Dream, Baumann scored William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977), two films for Michael Mann, Thief (1981) and The Keep (1983), Legend (1985) by Ridley Scott, Near Dark (1987) by Kathryn Bigelow and the box-office hit Risky Business. As a solo artist Baumann also scored some films, most notably Identification of a Woman (1982). First-time Offscreen writer Nolan Boyd tackles well worn territory —Lars von Trier’s Antichrist and the debate surrounding its heady mix of art, horror, and possible misogyny— but brings a fresh perspective to the table, arguing that Trier’s position is polemical rather than misogynist, and can be read as a critique of “He’s” (Willem Dafoe) controlling patriarchy. Boyd’s approach is to revisit many of the film’s key scenes in close reading study that offers alternate views of moments that have previously been read as anti-feminist or misogynist. The final essay by Ian Tan returns to Bertolt Brecht’s ‘epic theatre’, which was a response to conventional character and emotion driven theatre, as an attempt to invoke the Russian Formalist notion of art that jolts the viewer out of their social and political complacency. Tan starts with Walter Benjamin’s appropriation of Brecht’s epic theatre as an “interruption” of the all-too passive forms of bourgeois (or classical) theatre and film. Benjamin finds this “interruption” in the power of montage in film. Tan (aided by philosopher Mikel Dufrenne’s distinction between the real world and the expressed world of art) transposes this in a broader understanding of art that channels “disruption” of what the viewer may perceive as social reality. It is hard to think of two better directors for Tan to have chosen to express this than Alexandre Sokurov and Bela Tarr. Tan points uses Sokurov’s 2007 Alexandra and the way the grandmother figure, Alexandra, disrupts the mundane, mind numbing repetitive nature of the military —a theme Sokurov is no stranger to representing, with Spiritual Voices and Confession. Alexandra’s aging, humane, and feminine presence sends a jolt to the soul crushing military masculinity. Tan then studies Bela Tarr’s Turin Horse as an exercise in weighted futility where the weight of materiality is present in every frame of the film. (Donato Totaro, ed.)

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