May 2011, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour Land Ahoy – Landscapes in Cinema

THE SEARCHERS, 1956

Films cannot be imagined without landscapes. The real or virtual sceneries are as variegated as the potential and functions of these topographies are comprehensive and diverse: Landscapes in films tell stories, create or reflect moods, anticipate them or let them fade away, they play the leading role, turn into landscapes of the soul, or serve as a symbolic backdrop, often resting statically in the fast-paced flow of the movie's plot. Cinematic landscapes are "the freest element of film, the most flexible to convey moods, emotions and spiritual experiences." (S. Eisenstein) Since the beginning of cinematography, landscape shots - the depiction of both exotic foreign regions and home pastures - have fascinated audiences. Later, films of landscape-intensive genres such as mountain films, films with a regional background, war movies, or westerns constructed spectacular panoramas of a usually overwhelming nature. Beyond genre conventions, documentary, feature and experimental films open up a widely branched field of landscape depictions and the way they are constructed and called into question, which we would like to partially shed light on with 17 films in January.

SOGOBI (James Benning, USA 2002, Jan. 1 & 4) Many films by this master of landscape cinema are cinematic studies of specific landscapes, as is the case with SOGOBI – the Shoshonean word for "Earth" –, Benning's approach to the Californian wilderness in 35 carefully composed scenes with a great depth of field and devoid of humans. "I spent a year in the middle of nowhere and perhaps this is the closest I've come to portraying a true sense of place." (James Benning)

THE NEW WORLD (Terrence Malick, USA 2006, Jan. 2 & 5) The controversial portrayal of the encounter between the English conqueror John Smith and the young Indian Pocahontas at the beginning of the 17th century - an event constitutive of America's self-understanding. Malick stages the American founding myth to the rhythm of nature and the landscape, demonstrating the high status of the audio track for cinematic landscape depictions.

PICTURE OF LIGHT (Peter Mettler, Canada 1994, Jan. 6 & 10) A film crew travels through the almost uninhabited Canadian ice desert with the aim of filming the northern lights (aurora borealis). Mettler reflects on the representation of myths, the relationship between illusion and perception, between light and cinema, to impressive shots of the natural spectacle.

(Sharon Lockhart, USA 2003, Jan. 6 & 10) The creation of a landscape picture from just one camera angle. Autumn, somewhere in Japan: Two farmers spread hay on a freshly tilled field: The choreographed version of their daily work becomes a visual interaction with the landscape.

SUNA NO ONNA (Woman in the Dunes, Teshigahara Hiroshi, Japan 1964, Jan. 7, 9 & 12) Sand is everywhere: in all cracks of the hut and towering as huge sand dunes in front of it. After an excursion, an entomologist misses the bus and is accommodated in the hut of a widow. The next morning, incredible masses of sand block his way back to normal life and become life-threatening obstacles. Breathtaking black-and-white images of the invincible dunes and the flowing sand merge with the bodies of the trapped protagonists.

DIE WEISSE HÖLLE VOM PIZ PALÜ (The White Hell of Piz Palu, Arnold Fanck, G.W. Pabst, GER 1929, Jan. 8 & 11, on the piano: Eunice Martins) In this mountain film classic, the rather simple plot of a fanatic mountaineer who sets off with a young couple to a dangerous snow climb and is hit by an avalanche, recedes to the background in face of the majestic pictures of mountains, glaciers and ice landscapes. Shot at original locations, Fanck and his cameramen once more evoke the mountain mysticism that is so typical of him.

GALLIVANT (Andrew Kötting, GB 1996, Jan. 13 & 14) As the title suggests, gallivanting is exactly what the director, his grandmother (85) and daughter Eden (7) do. Their tour leads them along the British coast: Cornwall, Wales, Northern England, Scotland. They experience adventures, meet people and get to know each other better - at all times surrounded by epic images of the sea, sky and landscape.

THE SEARCHERS (John Ford, USA 1956, Jan 15 & 16) From a distance, a figure gradually emerges from the prairie - the first scene of Ford's classic western marks the only relationship in the life of the protagonist Ethan (John Wayne): that to the boundless landscape surrounding him, from whose embrace he frees himself almost unwillingly. And to which he returns to set off on a five-year search for his niece who was abducted by Indians.

LA RÉGION CENTRALE (Michael Snow, Canada 1971, Jan. 16) With the help of a special apparatus that can turn an operating camera in any direction at high speed, Snow shot a mountain top in the north of Quebec. In this new construction, the rough mountain world turns into an original cinematic landscape embedded in a cycle of light and darkness, warmth and cold.

SWEETGRASS (Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Ilisa Barbash, USA 2009, Jan. 17 & 19) A both unsentimental and monumental elegy on the (declining) American west, the last shepherds and their herds, who spend the summer months on the meadows of the Beartooth Mountains in Montana. This fantastic western shot in the format of a documentary shows how closely linked nature and culture, animals and humans, climate and landscape, vulnerability and violence, are at this place and during this time.

UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE (Jean Renoir, F 1936, Jan. 18 & 24) One of the most famous picnics in the history of film. Freed from the constraints and the heat of the city, spurred on by fresh air and flowing water, mother and daughter engage in a romance with two unknown men during a picnic by the river. Years later, when they visit the idyllic place again, melancholy and disappointed hopes are inscribed in the once romantic place on the banks of the river.

L’ANNÉE DERNIÈRE À MARIENBAD (Alain Resnais, F/I 1961, Jan. 18 & 24) A movie in which inside and outside, the suites of rooms in a Baroque castle and the landscape of a geometrically laid-out park appear to seamlessly merge. In this self-contained universe disconnected from the outside, two men and a woman play their roles, who seem to know each other, or maybe not.

FATA MORGANA (Werner Herzog, FRG 1969–71, Jan. 20 & 26) African landscapes between civilizational desecration and apocalypse, an essayistic swansong dedicated to a dying planet. The nightmarish, shimmering desert shots are accompanied by Guatemalan legends of creation, read by Herzog's mentor, Lotte Eisner, as well as a musical collage of songs by Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen.

LENZ (Thomas Imbach, Switzerland 2006 | Jan. 22 & 25) The mountain magnetically attracts the gaze of the spectator - an "at times threateningly close, at others majestically distant player in a course of events that sounds out the flanks, steep faces and valleys of delusion, as it were." (NZZ) Inspired by Georg Büchner's Lenz, Imbach juxtaposes the emotions of his protagonist, a Berlin filmmaker, with the elemental beauty of the surrounding nature.

DAS WEITE FELD (Volker Koepp, GDR 1976, Jan. 28 & 30) & KURISCHE NEHRUNG (Volker Koepp, GER 2001, Jan. 28 & 30) Two landscapes as spaces that depict time in the here-and-now. On the one hand, a Fontane country, a "wide field" which Koepp takes as the starting point of a brief history of culture, on the other, the narrow peninsula Kurische Nehrung, half Russian, half Lithuanian, where people and landscapes have shaped each other over time.

TOPIO STIN OMICHLI (Landscape in the Mist, Theo Angelopoulos, GR/F/I 1988, Jan. 27 & 29) Utopian countries, disappearing landscapes. Two children set off on a search for their father. The journey through a dreary and cold Greece turns into a painful trip to interior worlds.