Find Without Seeking. The Films of Angela Schanelec

Angela Schanelec’s films speak. They express personal thoughts and feelings. Although this may sound like a banal statement, it isn’t something that can be taken for granted in contemporary cinema, which is permeated by “big themes.” Her films are naked. Sounds, images, words and colors move on the screen in a determined, yet fragile way. As with a naked body, there is something obscure in these works, something that lingers between the images. Something familiar that doesn’t demand identification. A longing that doesn’t yield to romance. It is a sincere cinema of in-betweenness, of hesitation, of doubt.

The passing of time and the alienation of bourgeois life in neoliberalism have seldom found stronger expression than in Schanelec’s work. Her film Afternoon reveals the various interlocking relationships within a family. What stays in the mind, however, is the duration of an afternoon, at once peaceful and merciless. Schanelec makes time visible. Her work often revolves around family or relationships, but is never isolated from professional life, places, sociopolitical conditions, dreams and the relentless nature of time. As an actress who began her career in theater, one of the things Schanelec found in cinema was the heightened intensity of the moment. Every second counts. A bird’s cry from a treetop recounts the same fleeting sense of the absolute as a moving dance between father and daughter.

Schanelec’s films always go precisely as far as they can. She never makes assertions that are not visible or tangible from her perspective. Consequently, the question of perspective is also explored from a narrative and aesthetic point of view, such as in My Sister’s Good Fortune, which is about everyone seeing something different in a fact. It depends on who is looking and from which vantage point. Schanelec is aware that she always remains an observer. Her own gaze, equal parts gentle and strict, questions itself until it is no longer visible. In The Dreamed Path and I Was at Home, But, Schanelec challenges cinema’s preference for the human face. She fragments the body and shows that a movement of the hand or a step can have the same expressiveness as the eyes. Such fragmentations, which are both reminiscent of and distinct from those of Robert Bresson, also work in narrative fashion. Ellipses and overlaps between the present and the past leave things unclear that would perhaps appear dull if illuminated.

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