Archive for January 9th, 2013

When it was announced that David Fincher was making The Social Network, the film about Facebook, there was many a dissenting cry. The notion that a website could offer anything of substance to narrative cinema seemed absurd to some. In reality the film proved a roaring success, with seven Academy Award nominations, a Golden Globe for best picture and $224,920,315 at the box office.

Consider then Pixelschatten – Our Life Is Online, a low budget German drama based around a fictional blog, told entirely in point-of-view shots (from the eyes of the blog’s twenty-something editor, known as Pixel) and animations resembling web comment boxes. The film tells of the social networking experience from the user’s perspective, following a group of blog obsessed friends who fall out over incendiary and overly personal postings. Perhaps the film resembles what cynics had imaged the ‘Facebook movie’ to look like.

It may not sound inspired to the unsuspecting viewer, but Pixelschatten is actually constructed with superb taste, confidence and remarkable naturalism (particularly given its subject matter). Director Anil Jacob Kunnel, shooting on what can only be described as a face-mounted-DSLR-rig, assembles an endearing cast of young German talent that work hard to reap genuine emotional investment from the audience.

We barely see Pixel (Ben Gageik) himself, as the film is told from his POV, yet Ben Gageik is clearly doing something right behind his face mounted camera. Scenes between he and girlfriend Suse (Zora Klostermann) resonate with youthful spontaneity as they go through familiar rituals of chatting, partying, having sex, falling out and making up. Kunnel shows us these many moments with intimacy, but without voyeurism.

The specific positioning of the camera rig being over the face, rather than above the head (ala GoPro mounted sport cameras) lends an increased sense of intimacy to Pixel’s interactions. It allows us to actually experience the relationship between he and Suse, as it positions us to read body language as we ourselves experience it. It also permits us, for better or for worse, to indulge in a lot of full-on snogging.

Within Kunnel’s approach to the material lies a great irony. The film set two forms of communication at counterpoint, placing the culture of online messaging next to (hugely intimate) face to face communication. We witness the frequent passive-aggressive behaviour that takes place online, and the inconsistency of modern communication as the individuals tailor their behaviour based on the alternating online/offline circumstances.

Pixelschatten is unlikely to ascertain the financial rewards of The Social Network, yet it is a similarly valid depiction of the intimate role that online communication plays in the lives of young people. With its choice ensemble and evocative digital cinematography it is an appropriately soulful depiction of a modern German youth who, in spite of their digital addiction, are very much in touch with life in all its vibrant intensity.

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Hors Satan is the sixth feature film by French filmmaker Bruno Dumont. Dumont’s previous films were mostly shot in rural landscapes, often in his native country, and featured marginalised characters undergoing both extreme trauma and spiritual transformation. He has a particular directing style, using long takes and razor sharp visuals to bring his worlds to life. Comparisons could be made with Robert Bresson and Michael Haneke but this would not do justice to his singularity. There are few people working in cinema today who can conjure up the ethereal atmosphere that Dumont can.

David Dewaele, a Dumont regular, plays ‘The Guy’, a mystical man who roams the wild coastline of Northern France. This is an otherworldly being that the local community reveres and looks to for support. When one of their children is ill, they seek his healing powers, and in turn he collects food from them daily. His only real relationship seems to be with ‘The Girl’, a gothic, troubled teenager played by Alexandra Lemâtre. Dumont hints at domestic unrest in her family; hints of abuse from her stepfather. She confides her problem to him, and he takes matter into his own hands. A clinical shot to the chest as her stepfather steps out of his barn.

This action sets off a chain of violent retribution, but it would be foolish to mistake this film for a typical lovers- on-a- killing- spree yarn. For one, their relationship is strangely sexless. ‘The Guy’ rebukes her longing advances, and his only dalliances with the fairer sex are purely spiritual. When a local girl is deathly ill, he revives her through sex. Yes, it sounds absurd on paper, but Dumont makes it work. The violence is also far from sensational, appearing at infrequent moments and devoid of any cinematic relish. Instead, the duo wander the wilds of the countryside, dwelling in sunlight and gentle breeze. ‘The Guy’ seems to be completely at one with his surroundings, indifferent to ideas of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, but what exists before him.

Hors Satan, like Dumont’s previous work, is not for the restless viewer. It is full of long close ups of the two characters gazing into the landscape, little dialogue, and with banal meaning. There are few ‘events’ for the audience to grapple onto, Dumont allowing the landscape to almost flow through the viewer. Dumont uses a mixture of wide angle shots and close ups, and there is no sound editor to prettify the sounds of the coastline. Every footstep, every whistle of the wind, can be heard vividly on screen. These are important choices, allowing the audience to be completely immersed in the environment, beguiled by its beauty and indifference.

One film it is sometimes reminiscent of is Terrence Malick’s Badlands. It too features a couple too dysfunctional to operate in civilised society and finding comfort in the unbounded freedom that nature offers. There is a distinct parallel in Dumont and Malick’s thought processes as well; both seek to draw the viewer’s attention to nature and its power over mankind, using the sensory capabilities of cinema to express this idea. Like Badlands, Dumont’s film leaves us with more questions than answers but is similarly exhilarating. Although Dumont is an atheist, there are constant hints of spirituality and a higher power in his work, and Hors Satan continues in this vein. But perhaps for Dumont, it is the cinema that is all seeing, all knowing, all powerful.

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