December 2016, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – The Kammerspielfilm

JEANNE DIELMAN, 23 QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES, 1975

A concentration on a small number of characters and locations, a focus on inner conflicts, and a restricted timeframe: the key components of the "Kammerspiel" film genre that emerged in the 1920s sound fairly ascetic. But often a unique sense of drama emerged from the extreme paring down of place, time, and plot that was carried and intensified by the subjectifying use of light and by a camera which got up close to the protagonists to record the tiniest changes in their gestures and facial expressions. This film movement, which was inspired by the modern stage design ideas Max Reinhardt had implemented from 1906 onwards on a new Berlin theatre next to the Deutsches Theater also called the Kammerspiele, experienced its first (and perhaps only, in a classical sense) highpoint at the beginning of the 20s and marked the transition from Expressionist film forms to realistic trends in Germany. This month’s Magical History Tour presents the varied echoes of the Kammerspiel film in film history, from classical homages to the early examples of the genre all the way to creative variations upon it.

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE(Elia Kazan, USA 1951, 1. & 3.12.) Amid the sweltering New Orleans summer, three very different people come together in two small rooms only separated by a curtain: the married couple Stella (Kim Hunter) and Stanley (Marlon Brando) – she: eternally trying to keep the peace, he: rough and brutal – and Stella's capricious sister Blanche (Vivien Leigh). Blanche's unfulfilled yearnings increasingly drive her into a fantasy world that feeds on dreams, desires and hopes, which must inexorably collide with Stanley's mental and physical violence. Based on Tennessee Williams’s play, Kazan creates a dark, claustrophobic, psychological drama.

PO SAKONU (By the Law, Lew Kuleschov, USSR 1926, 1.12., with a live piano accompaniment by Eunice Martins) A constructivist Soviet Western as a Kammerspiel: five adventurers search for and find gold by the Yukon. Following two murders, the survivors are confronted with an existential dilemma. Trapped in a log cabin, initially in the midst of ice and snow and later the floodwater lapping at the walls, they set up an "official court" composed of two people to pass judgement on the third, the double murderer. A drama as minimal as it is visually striking, with actress Alexandra Chochlova at its heart: "Her eyes glow like her hair. Her acting is without words, true film acting of the face and hands – here, all literature has been washed away and a new, untarnished person, capable of her own feelings, appears on stage". (Bernard von Brentano)

ABSCHIED (SO SIND DIE MENSCHEN)(Robert Siodmak, Germany 1930, 4. & 8.12.) A young couple in a small room in the Berlin boarding house "Splendide", which is largely home to failed existences or those disappointed by life. Hella (Brigitte Horney) and Peter (Aribert Mog) are also struggling with problems: they lack the money for their planned marriage. After one of them stays fatefully silent, generating misunderstandings as a result, a serious argument rears its head. The first ever Kammerspiel film in sound - Siodmak developed an impressive, realistic sound design – takes place over one day inside an apartment. 

A TORINÓI LÓ(The Turin Horse, Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky, Hungary 2011, 10. & 14.12.)  Incessant, roaring wind, a bleak wooden house, the most barren of landscapes, a coachman, his daughter, and a horse. For five days, each day the same as all the others, as a daily routine that is as heavy and full of efforts as it is minimal is repeated, only interrupted by neighbor bringing reports of dark happenings, or the drifters who stop by to ask for water. Then, bit by bit, the well runs dry, the light goes out and the horse gives up the ghost. Mysterious, rigorous, highly concentrated (and equally demanding of a high degree of concentration), Tarr's "cinematic monolith" (H.P. Koll) inverts the story of creation in barely 30 shots (cinematography: Fred Kelemen). At the end, there is no resolution, to say nothing of redemption, just a final darkness and an existential cinematic experience. 

NIEMANDSLAND(Victor Trivas, Germany 1931, 11.12.) The Russian montage film meets the German Kammerspiel film. In the middle of the First World War, five soldiers of different nationalities and religions meet in a dugout in the no-man's land between the trenches: an officer, a factory worker, a carpenter (Ernst Busch), a tailor (whose character’s name is "Somewhere in the world"), and a vaudeville dancer. Initial animosity is followed by rapprochement, understanding, and finally solidarity. This parable-like anti-war film was banned by the censors just months after the National Socialists came to power.

JEANNE DIELMAN, 23 QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES(Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France 1975, 12. & 15.12.) A woman – Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig), an apartment, three days. The camera stubbornly observes Dielman in long fixed takes as she carries out her daily routines in what seems like a self-contained world – she clears up, makes the beds, dusts, washes up, and cooks. In the afternoon, she receives older gentlemen - even her casual prostitution has a set place in the precise way her day unfolds. On the second day, at first barely noticeably, the rigid time and spatial structures are shattered, and on the third the inevitable escalation takes place. A quiet, lonely Kammerspiel whose choreography of gestures, movements and rituals bears radical witness to emotional stultification.

DAS VERSTECK(Frank Beyer, East Germany 1978, 13. & 29.12.) A year ago, Wanda (Jutta Hoffmann) and Max (Manfred Krug) went their separate ways; for a year now, Max hasn’t been able to get over the separation. With the help of a trick – he pretends he’s being pursued by the police – he moves in with Wanda and her new boyfriend for a week and does whatever he can to win back his ex-wife. For seven days, the former husband and wife circle one another in an East Berlin apartment, wrestle with the idea of a new start, discuss, weigh things up. An ironic, enigmatic relationship story, at times melancholy, at times cheerful, at times thoughtful and then light once again, carried by the filigree polyphony (script: Jurek Becker) of its construction and masterfully acted by Jutta Hoffmann und Manfred Krug.

THE CONNECTION (Shirley Clarke, USA 1961, 16. & 28.12.) Taking Jack Gelber's play within a play as a starting point, which was first brought to the New York stage by the Living Theatre group at the end of the 50s, Shirley Clarke's THE CONNECTION is a precise commentary on cinéma vérité as a documentary "research process" (Edgar Morin). A documentary filmmaker and his cameraman film a group of drug addict jazz musicians waiting for their "connection" in a New York apartment. The director "documents" the happenings and the junkies' interactions and records their improvised jazz pieces. The set-up changes drastically upon the arrival of the dealer: it is not just the drugs but also the camera which influences the power relationships in this restricted space.

FONTANE EFFI BRIEST(Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany 1974, 17. & 22.12.) None of the numerous Effi Briest films stays as faithful to the literary source materials or accentuates its status as an adaptation for another medium as strongly as Fassbinder's take on the society novel. With calm concentration, the film follows the 17-year-old Effi (Hanna Schygulla), who marries Baron von Instetten, who is 20 years her senior, finds no love in her marriage and takes refuge in an affair. Fassbinder contrasts garden scenes, long walks, outings to the beach, and coach rides with increasingly claustrophobic and double reframed interior shots replete with reflections – whether inside or outside, a film of gradual ossification, of dissolution.

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?(Mike Nichols, USA 1966, 18. & 27.12.) "What a dump!" Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) exclaims shortly after coming home from a long evening of heavy drinking, opening up another round of bitter verbal exchanges with her husband (Richard Burton). Her "dump" becomes the catalyst for criticism, reproaches, and debasing statements in both directions, which are fueled by the “audience” on hand, the young unsuspecting couple Martha has invited to join them. The film was based on the successful eponymous Kammerspiel play by Edward Albee, a verbal tour de force about the hell of marriage that Nichols staged as a war film.

12 ANGRY MEN (Sidney Lumet, USA 1957, 20. & 22.12.) Twelve jurors (played by Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, and Jack Klugman, among others) must decide whether a young Puerto Rican is guilty or not of murdering his father in this gripping court drama. Apart from a few minutes at the beginning, Lumet’s debut film takes place entirely in one room. The tense atmosphere between the men is also transmitted by the visual language (cinematography by Boris Kaufman): whereas at the start the camera shows the room in its entirety, as the plot unfolds, it gets closer to the individual jurors and their spiraling confrontations. An engagement with the American judicial system that is as piercing as it is gripping.

DIE GETRÄUMTEN(The Dreamed Ones, Ruth Beckermann, Austria 2016, 23. & 26.12.) Two young actors (Anja Plaschg und Laurence Rupp) in a sound studio at the Funkhaus in Vienna: only interrupted by brief pauses in the corridor, the canteen, the concert hall, and outside, the two of them read out letters from the correspondence between Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan that spanned nearly two decades. Diverse variations on drawing closer unearth the different levels of a struggle (of all concerned): with the letters, with love, with language, with history. A sublime "literature adaptation" whose precise reduction of the spatial configuration and careful staging creates a space for the moving love story between two of the most important voices in 20th century German-language literature.

DIAL M FOR MURDER(Alfred Hitchcock, USA 1954, 25. & 30.12.) In many of his films, Hitchcock operates by reducing the number of locations, characters, and plot lines. His desire expressed to François Truffaut of shooting an entire film in a telephone box was also not implemented in DIAL M FOR MURDER, although he doesn’t grant the characters in the plot much more than a single London flat, albeit a most stylish one. This is where the perfect murder is supposed to be carried out on the rich Margot (Grace Kelly), meticulously planned by her husband (Ray Milland), who finally hopes for unrestricted access to his wife’s millions. (mg)

arsenal cinema: Classics Not Just for Children

04:30 pm Cinema 1


The Circus

The Circus
Charles Chaplin USA 1928 With Charles Chaplin
Music: Charles Chaplin 35 mm OV 71 min

arsenal cinema: Frank Capra Retrospective

06:00 pm Cinema 1


It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life USA 1946
With James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore, Donna Reed
35 mm OV/GeS 129 min
Preserved by the Library of Congress

arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour – The Kammerspielfilm

07:30 pm Cinema 2


Dial M For Murder

Dial M For Murder Alfred Hitchcock USA 1954
With Grace Kelly 35 mm OV 106 min

arsenal cinema: Frank Capra Retrospective

08:30 pm Cinema 1


Meet John Doe

Meet John Doe USA 1941
With Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold, Walter Brennan
35 mm OV 125 min
Print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive