Navigation überspringen

The Dreamed Path

filmmakers, Giovanni Marchini Camia

Angela Schanelec’s continued lack of recognition, at least outside of Germany, is genuinely baffling. Judging from the dismissive-to-hostile reactions that followed the premiere of her eighth feature at the Locarno Film Festival, this regrettable state of affairs is unlikely to change. And yet, out of the competition entries I managed to see, The Dreamed Path is the only one I feel deserves to be called a masterpiece.

The Dreamed Path is a demanding film, even more so than Schanelec’s previous work, but the challenge is legitimated by being commensurate with her thematic ambition: to dissect the torturous dialectic between the universal human need for connection and the invisible forces that inhibit its fulfillment. The narrative, which begins in the 1980s before shifting to the present about halfway through, is split between two couples, one young and one middle-aged. Schanelec deliberately keeps the particulars of the relationships and their ill-fated trajectories familiar and largely unexceptional in order to zero in on the underlying existential dimension. This strategy is elaborated through her choice of a 4:3 frame and by having the actors, for the most part non-professionals, deliver all their lines with Bressonian impassivity. The film’s mise en scène is constructed with the utmost precision, each element in every frame evincing purposeful intention. As with fellow Bresson disciple Pedro Costa, Schanelec’s rigorously austere aesthetic has the effect that any departure – a music cue, an aberrant camera movement, a single tear bursting through a face’s stony façade – is amplified to earth-shattering proportions and the sparing deployment of such moments engenders an expression of empathy that is as vigorous as it is unembellished.

Schanelec’s detractors often accuse her films of stasis. A more fitting description, certainly for The Dreamed Path, would be that they’re preoccupied with permanence. Although the film makes big chronological and geographical jumps, these are not signaled immediately but take place within ellipses and only become apparent through subtle clues, usually anachronisms introduced sometime after the fact. Through this tactic, along with the ironic background incorporation of historical developments promising a closer union amongst societies – e.g. Greece’s entry into the European Union, or German reunification – Schanelec frames the isolation afflicting her characters as an essential and immutable characteristic of the human condition. In this regard, it’s appropriate that she should invite comparison to Kafka by at one point showing a character with a collection of his stories. Although she doesn’t share the great author’s overt absurdism, her film evokes an analogous sense of entrapment and ineluctability. The Dreamed Path is not a cheerful film, no, but like Kafka’s writing, Schanelec’s cinema is not one of defeat. If it were, surrender would be a choice both understandable and inevitable, whereas it is unambiguously presented as the ultimate tragedy., James Lattimer

In the absence of obvious cause and effect and anything more than the most fleeting of connections between its two sets of characters, The Dreamed Path relies instead on a system of repeating gestures to give it cohesion: bags and suitcases being packed and unpacked, hands exchanging objects or money, feet stationary or on uncertain terrain, bodies passing through doorways or lying in forlorn repose, their perversely emotional effect amplified by the tight Academy-ratio frame. If there are distinct echoes of Robert Bresson in Schanelec’s approach, none of her character’s gestures bring them transcendence, which isn’t to say that her worldview is without hope. While The Dreamed Path depicts existence as quiet, desperate stasis, untouched by the repercussions of relationships, politics, or even time itself, solace lies in the fact that children are still capable of moving and being moved. Schanelec has never enjoyed the same attention of many others awkwardly subsumed under the banner of the Berlin School, a fact which this bracing new work will hopefully change. To tie her austere, yet deeply felt vision to a particular trend is anyway a denial of its pure singularity., Annabel Brady-Brown

Angela Schanelec’s eighth feature, Der traumhafte Weg (The Dreamed Path), is a glorious existential sucker punch. Plot-wise, this wonderfully strange, narratively elliptical work from the Berlin School filmmaker moves between two worlds: a young couple’s holiday fling in Greece in 1984 that melts, unidentified, into the lives of an older couple who are separating in Berlin, thirty years later. Shot with chilling formal rigour, Schanelec manages to express everything—heroin addiction, the death of a parent, extinct hopes, solitude—through an intense Bressonian framing of mostly hands, feet, and torsos. The film builds its own trance-like rhythm while cold shouldering on-screen drama. Dialogue is stilted, sparse, each figure wrapped into themselves, and other than a cathartic burst of Flume’s remix of “You and Me”, most of the film passes in silence, stasis. When a young girl breaks her arm we only see her carry the ladder to a window and then her body resting on the floor, as if sleeping. Magnified by these gaps, the gestures of Schanelec’s lonely, aching bodies resonate far longer than any words.

MUBI, Michael Sicinski

There was probably no single film I’ve seen this year—in Wavelengths, at TIFF, or anywhere else for that matter, narrative or experimental—that has left me more befuddled than The Dreamed Path.

By the same token, the experience of watching Schanelec’s new film is something I can only describe as hypnotic. It is so rare that I am glued to the screen in anticipation, not for some plot point or a character’s development, but literally for the next shot. (The last instance I can recall would be Ramon Zürcher’s The Strange Little Cat.) It’s not that the progression from shot to shot is puzzle-like or generates Soviet-style mini-dramas. The montage doesn’t “burst.” (New) German though she may be, Schanelec’s movement is much more Swiss. It’s the precision that, once it unfolds, conveys total inevitability. You see this, of course, in Bresson (an obvious and avowed influence on The Dreamed Path) but also in the sadly under-seen experimental films of Warren Sonbert. Montage logic clicks the film’s bodies into place, imbuing them with a “second life” that partially overcomes that death-at-work that is cinema’s fundamental burden.  

As for The Dreamed Path’s narrative information, I can say that in my first viewing I was able to extract only a mere modicum. Thematically, we have parallel families, whose fortunes are only slightly offset by their relative class positions. Large temporal ellipses occur with virtually no signposting (shades of Maurice Pialat, perhaps) and actors are not made up to appear artificially aged. This perhaps speaks to Schanelec’s interest in cinematic time as an illusion that only editing can make “real” (along with her background in theatre, where temporal immediacy is the coin of the realm). But as the great Gord Downie said, geez, I don’t know.

go back