May 2019, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – 
The Kammerspielfilm

ROPE, 1948

With a concentration on a small number of characters and spaces, a focus on inner conflicts and a clear restricted timeframe, the key components of the “Kammerspiel” film genre that came about in the 1920s appear ascetic. But often a particular sense of drama emerged from the extreme paucity of place, time and plot that was conveyed and intensified by the subjectifying use of light and by a moving camera, which in the protagonists’ immediate vicinity recorded the tiniest changes in gestures and facial expressions. The film movement, which was inspired by the modern stage design ideas Max Reinhardt had implemented from 1906 onwards on a new Berlin stage that was also called Kammerspiele, experienced its first (perhaps the only one in a classical sense) peak at the beginning of the Twenties and marked the transition from Expressionist film forms to realistic trends. Its resonance in film history is varied, ranging from standard reverential homages to earlier examples of the genre to creative variations on it (or individual aspects). Subjective as always, we have brought together a few for this month’s Magical History Tour.

RIO BRAVO (Howard Hawks, USA 1959, 1. & 9.5.) A western without the vast expanse of the prairie. Instead this is a Kammerspiel whose setting alternates between the saloon, Main Street and the sheriff’s office. Sheriff John Chance (John Wayne) arrests the brother of rancher Nathan Burdette and has to keep him in jail till the marshal comes so that there can be a trial. Burdette’s cronies lay siege to the jail. There are few people on the sheriff’s side: Dude, a drinker (Dean Martin), an old grump, a mysterious card-playing woman passing through town and a young cowboy.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (Mike Nichols, USA 1965, 2. & 10.5.) "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.
SEOLGUK-YEOLCHA (Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-ho, Republic of Korea 2013, 3. & 20.5.) Life on a train: Set in the near future, with earth no longer habitable because of an ice age. Humanity’s last survivors are on a train moving insanely fast around the planet, without stopping. There is a strict class hierarchy: The rich lead a luxurious life in the front part of the train, while the poor have to carry out hard labor at the back. Moreover, they live in the dark. A class struggle is set in motion from carriage to carriage. It is soon unstoppable, just like the train itself.

JEANNE DIELMAN, 23 QUAI DU COMMERCE – 1080 BRUXELLES (Chantal Akerman, B / F 1975, 4. & 30.5.) 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.

ROPE (Alfred Hitchcock, USA 1948, 5. & 12.5.) Hitchcock's numerous dramas in confined spaces (Lifeboat, The Lady Vanishes and Dial M for Murder) earned him the epithet "God of small spaces". In ROPE, the plural becomes singular with the film taking place almost entirely in the living room of an apartment. In classic Kammerspiel-thriller style, Hitchcock unites place, time and plot, which unfolds almost in real time in what seems like one single continuous long take (in reality there were several). Two students who want to carry out the perfect murder sacrifice a classmate to the experiment and put their philosophy professor (James Stewart) to the test.

PO ZAKONU (By the Law, Lev Kuleshov, USSR 1926, 8. & 17.5., with 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 Khokhlova 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)

THE AFRICAN QUEEN (John Huston, USA 1951, 11. & 15.5.) A river trip through the Belgian Congo shortly after the breakout of World War I unites seeming contradictions: the conflicting genres of adventure film and Kammerspiel, and the dissimilar protagonists, Rose (Katharine Hepburn) a straitlaced missionary, and Charlie (Humphrey Bogart), the uncouth captain. The cutter that gives the film its name and is barely fit to sail is the third protagonist so-to-speak, providing a cramped setting for a journey towards emotional liberation that equally dangerous and comical.

ABSCHIED (SO SIND DIE MENSCHEN) (Farewell, Robert Siodmak, G 1930, 19. & 23.5.) 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.

NATTVARDSGÄSTERNA (Winter Light, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden 1963, 21. & 26.5.) The framework is provided by two protestant services. There aren’t too many people left in town who put their hopes in god. A fisherman comes to take to Pastor Tomas Ericsson with his wife because he’s worried about a possible nuclear war. Ericsson offers little comfort. He himself has doubted the existence of god since his wartime experiences and the death of his wife. The fisherman commits suicide. One more person turns up to the evening service – Marta, Tomas’ ex-mistress, whose advances the pastor rejects. This existential drama about the loss of love and faith is the middle part of what Bergman himself described as a Kammerspiel trilogy (between Såsom i en spegel and Tystnaden).

SCHLAGENDE WETTER (Karl Grune, G 1923, 22.5., with live piano accompaniment by Eunice Martins) The pregnant Bergmann daughter Marie is abandoned by her lover George and driven out by her own father. The miner Thomas takes her in, agreeing to marry her and look after the child. But when George comes back, drama ensues, with a final confrontation down in the tunnels of the mine. The director and the architect Karl Görge built a labyrinthine mine for the set of this film about jealousy, with its very precise observation of one social group.

POSLESLOVIYE (Marlen Khutsiev, USSR 1983, 24. & 29.5.) A son-in-law and a father-in-law, who is actually in Moscow to visit his daughter, come face to face when it turns out that she is on a business trip. The enthusiastic, interested father-in-law, who seems to feel an almost restless sympathy for all those around him, gradually grows closer to his confused, even uncomprehending son-in-law. "The result: a masterful Kammerspiel whose terrors play out between the telephone and the typewriter, claustrophobic, explosive and rich in subversive potential, it equally functions as comment on life under Brezhnev". (Barbara Wurm)

UNITED RED ARMY (Wakamatsu Koji, Japan 2007, 25. & 31.5.) The eponymous United Red Army was one of the most militant groups of left-wing radicals in 1960s and 1970s Japan. The director traces their path to radicalization and self-destruction in three acts, which culminate in a siege at a skiing lodge, in which not only policemen but also several militants are killed. The inquisition-like hell of the training camps in the snow-covered mountains is staged as a claustrophobic Kammerspiel. The battle for the lodge, filmed entirely from the perspective of the militants, symbolizes the failure of a movement that was hopelessly on the wrong track.

arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour – 
The Kammerspielfilm

07:30 pm Cinema 2


Nattvardsgästerna Winter Light Ingmar Bergman
Sweden 1963 With Gunnar Björnstrand, Ingrid Thulin,
Max von Sydow, Gunnel Lindblom
35 mm OV/EnS 80 min

arsenal cinema: Commedia all’italiana

08:00 pm Cinema 1

Tutti a casa

Tutti a casa Everybody Go Home! Luigi Comencini Italy/France 1960
With Alberto Sordi, Eduardo De Filippo, Serge Reggiani, Martin Balsam
35 mm OV/EnS 114 min
Print of the CSC Cineteca Nazionale

Introduced by Gerhard Midding