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.
Tagesspiegel, Anke Leweke
Kann man mit der Bezeichnung Lieblingsfilm auch der jüngsten Arbeit von Angela Schanelec gerecht werden? Im Wettbewerb lief Schanelecs „Der traumhafte Weg“, der in den 80er Jahren in Griechenland beginnt und ein Paar zeigt, das gemeinsam singt, um sich den Ferienaufenthalt zu finanzieren. 30 Jahre später leben beide in Berlin, ohne von einander zu wissen. Die Kamera folgt weiteren Menschen, etwa der Schauspielerin Arianne, die sich von ihrem Mann trennt und deren Tochter, die eine gute Fußballerin ist. Handlung, Erzählung, solche Begriffe passen nicht zu den Filmen der Berliner Regisseurin. Man kann nicht einmal von losen Handlungssträngen sprechen, muss sich einlassen auf ihre Wahrnehmung, ihre Vision. Auf Bilder, die zunächst einmal zeigen wollen, ohne Bedeutung zu transportieren, ohne die Figuren zu Identifikationsträgern zu machen. Es sind Bilder, die unseren Blick suchen. Man kann zusehen, wie Menschen durch das neue Berlin rund um den Hauptbahnhof ziehen, ihren Platz suchen. Auch ihre Gefühle sind im Transit. Innere Bewegungen werden sichtbar. Was möchte man mehr vom Kino?
Frankfurter Rundschau, Daniel Kothenschulte
Es gibt einen Überschuss an Schönheit in diesem Film, doch keine Ästhetisierung. Der Eindruck, den der fragmentarische Stil hinterlässt, ist der eines kunstvollen Bilderbuchs, das die Geschichte, die es illustriert, nie gänzlich preisgibt. Es ist nicht selbstverständlich, dass Künstler den Stil, für den sie bekannt sind, radikal zu ändern wagen, ohne ihn dabei im Mindesten zu verraten. „Der traumhafte Weg“: Ist hier vielleicht das Glücksgefühl der Regisseurin gemeint, beim Beschreiten eines neuen Wegs des Erzählens?
fourthreefilm.com, 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.
slate.fr, Jean-Michel Frodon
C’est à l’extrême le cas du film le plus impressionnant vu cette année à Locarno, Der traumhafte Weg de la cinéaste allemande Angela Schanelec. Ce « chemin rêvé » mène des années 80 à aujourd’hui, de la chute du Mur à l’Europe contemporaine : chemin heurté, incertain, mais jalonné de plans d’une puissance extraordinaire, comme on n’en a guère connus ailleurs que chez Robert Bresson. La cinéaste de Marseille, Nachmittag et Orly radicalise avec une puissance et une liberté impressionnantes les ressources d’une invocation du passé et de présent prêts à s’incarner dans de multiples figures, selon une logique qui doit plus à la danse contemporaine qu’au roman du 19e siècle.
Screenanarchy, 12.9. 2016, Ben Umstead
Toronto 2016 Review: THE DREAMED PATH, A Minimalist Masterwork. German director Angela Schanelec's latest look at the nature of migration, stasis and loneliness should prove an equally striking and challenging cinematic event for new viewers, while previous enthusiasts of her opaque and minimalist oeuvre will be elated by this subtle masterstroke, one that is filled with powerful political nuance.
The above statement is a bold one to be sure, but as someone who has patiently waited six years since Schanelec's last feature, the multi-narrative Orly, I feel very satisfied in saying as such.
It is important to note that while her near 20 year career has yielded multiple premieres at top tier festivals like Cannes and Locarno, unlike her contemporary Christian Petzold, Schanelec remains largely obscure outside of her native land. While The Dreamed Path is in no way enough of an accessible title to warrant wide exposure even on the indie circuit, the distribution landscape has changed enough since Orly's premiere in 2010 to suggest that cinephile minded outlets like Fandor should be picking her Bressonian catalog up post haste.
Rich and profound in vision, The Dreamed Path flows with a beguiling ease, but is certainly not a lucid affair. Exposition is absent, with plotting a mere shadow. While the narrative is all there, you need to pay close attention. Details can often be found in the framing of silences more so than the glacial tone of dialog. The film works in two parts, each tale chronicling the deterioration of couples in their relationships, some 30 years apart. The first story begins in 1984, and follows young German Theres (Miriam Jakob) and Englishman Kenneth (Thorbjörn Björnsson) as they travel through Greece, eventually back to Germany, and when Kenneth finds out his mother is seriously ill, he moves on alone to the U.K.. Their separate threads continue through the decade, up until a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The second story is set in present day Berlin and features Ariane (Maren Eggert), an actress, David (Phil Hayes), her often absent anthropologist husband, and their ten-year old daughter Fanny (Anaïa Zapp).
While both stories intersect tangentially, most connections between them are found in thematic motifs and aesthetic choices that find their rhythms across the film's 86 minutes. Schanelec and her long-time cinematographer Reinhold Vorschneider's brilliant form of minimalism is so stark that it distils and maximizes time and space to such an effect that the impact of the image we are left with is equally pure and abstracted; rife with meaning and desolation.
Take for instance the seemingly simple shot of water being poured from a pitcher to a glass. It is perfectly centered in the 4:3 frame. A late afternoon light cuts through, casting a crystallized shadow on the table. Instead of moving onto close ups of the conversation that is at the heart of this scene (one about belief in God and the frustration of his absence) Schanelec stays on the glass until it is emptied. Consider also the moment Kenneth calls home and gets the bad news about his mother. This takes places after he and Theres sit on the sidewalk busking for a few bucks, singing a sweet and tender little version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Instead of cutting to his reaction of the news, Schanelec stays on his shoes, the dropping of his cap, then moves to Theres' reaction, then a torso only shot of a police man catching him before he falls. We then cut to a bunch of Greek youths in the back of a van, then a dog and woman, who asks what has happened. Schanelec very sparingly uses close ups of faces. The few that are used emotionally count for all the absent moments, months and years.
This expert focus on abstraction through realism is key to the film's lasting power in a number of ways. A visual motif through both stories is the use of feet and hands, sometimes idle, at other times busy. Indeed the opening of the film consists of close ups of Theres and Kenneth's feet and hands as they scramble up a wooded hillside. Another repeating theme with bodies is illness and disability, from Kenneth's mother's comatose state, to his father's (Alan Williams) near blindness, to Fanny breaking her arm, and a paraplegic boy she swims with at the pool. It is important to note that in a film full of intimate disconnection Kenneth's father and Fanny may in fact be the most present and resilient characters. What we also find in these threads then is the further compression and acceleration of action through seeming stasis and altered ways of living. For nearly all major story points revolve around these conditions and happenings.
Like all of her work, from the coming-of-age journey Places in Cities to the arcane yet enveloping Marseille, Schanelc is very much interested in migration between modern and liminal borders. The suggested inter-play of Germany, the U.K. and Greece in the first story creates a striking thread of histories when one considers how each of these countries has affected European politics and trade in recent years. Indeed, if the film is about people's inherent inability to connect than it is also about union and unity, not only between people, but between countries, and especially between one's faith and one's own body and senses.
As such, The Dreamed Path is very much about the ways we watch each other and the world around us. While the emotions of its characters are held tightly to the periphery of the frame, it is in fact through the observational way we enter the work that we are able to relate to their feelings of emptiness. That is not to say the film is dour in conclusion. Very much like its title, The Dreamed Path suggests just as much hope as it does regret. And so, like many masterworks inspired by the likes of Bresson and Kieslowski, Schanelec's film is cinema as question, and nothing more.
That question, of course, is multiple choice, etched by many paths, stretching out across generations, borders, class systems and beyond.
The Dreamed Path had its world premiere in competition at the 2016 Locarno Film Festival. It has its North American premiere as part of the Toronto International Film Festival Monday, September 12th, and plays again Wednesday, September 14th.
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.