The latest from formally-daring German filmmaker Angela Schanelec is an exciting and impenetrable take on the Oedipus myth.
Austere; elliptical; challenging; rigid. These are all terms that describe the cinema of German writer-director Angela Schanelec. Her latest feature, Music, is a puzzling formal exercise that may seem impenetrable even for those who are familiar with the filmmaker’s brand of highly serious post-narrative construction. The uninitiated are faced with the much more daunting challenge of committing to an opaque structure that, coupled with a glaring lack of exposition, make it nearly impossible to glean the links between the film and the Oedipus myth that has been inspired by.
Shot in true Schanelec fashion – lengthy, static, carefully composed shots, in this case depicting coastal and mountainous landscapes – the film traverses a not-so-distant past in Greece (signifiers in clothing and cars hinting at the 1980s) before moving to urban locales in present-day Germany. When the frame is not completely still and fixed on figures in the distance, slow yet precise pans follow the gestures of hands and feet and create haptic images. The narrative – mostly dominated by omissions – introduces a newborn boy found in a stone hut on the roadside, who is quickly adopted and named Ionas by a couple who baptise him on the coast by saturating his small, reddened feet in seawater. When we see Ionas again, he is a young adult played by Aliocha Schneider, recognisable by his bruised heels.
A car accident inadvertently leads to his involvement in a tragic death and, eventually, to his incarceration, where he meets-not-so-cute with a female prison warden named Iro (Agathe Bonitzer) – Schanelec’s version of Jocasta. Iro introduces him to baroque music, the title slowly finding its way into the film through its evocative use of Bach and Pergelosi. The pair become a couple and have a child together, providing Schanelec with her idiosyncratic parameters to explore the core of the mythical tragedy.
Although Ionas and Iro are both native to Greece, and though both characters have a fluent command over the language, their spoken Greek is stiff and ostensibly saturated with the actors’ own French accents. There’s an overt artificiality rooted in this linguistic stiltedness that only points towards the general function of language throughout Schanelec’s cinema. Rather than acting as a tool for resolution or communication, language imbues each banal line of dialogue and laconic interaction with the same air of austerity that permeates her rejection of narrative convention.
To decipher and derive meaning from a film this dense and obtuse is a Herculean task that only becomes easier when looking at it less a standalone feature, but rather as a fascinating addition to the filmmaker’s body of work. Granted that a viewer can forgo the need for narrative logic and become entirely susceptible to the subtle details that lie within the abstracted material fields of her cinema, all that’s left to do is plunge headlong into the affective charge of image and sound.
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Published 22 Feb 2023
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