T/F Day 2: Abendland

The hits kept coming at True/False Saturday, the third day of the fest. Columbia’s unparalleled enthusiasm is on full display, matching the excellent programming of the festival. More thoughts about the films, catching up with one I saw Friday night.

Abendland

But last night there was one to mention, Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Abendland. The film’s subject is ostensibly Europe at night, with the film being composed of a series of vignettes of Europe’s largest systems at work. The film’s title encapsulates its open-ended nature – the German word “abendland” (meaning “land of the west” or “evening land”) is used by some to reference racial or social superiority, but also ironically to connote an end and themes relating to the sun setting in the west. Theoretically one could interpret the film either way, although it’s easy to guess the filmmaker’s own predilection.

These are stark, mostly static portraits: of Roma gypsies, border guards, Oktoberfest mayhem, and an asylum-rejection counselor. They reveal systems collapsing under the weight of prosperity and order. Some people work in cold, solitary positions – manning suicide hotlines, nursing elderly patients, and (most creepily) tracking walls of surveillance cameras. Crowd scenes are even more unsettling, as Geyrhalter shows the vast disconnect between carefree revelers and those who spend their lives enabling them to revel without worry.

The film’s final scene, a harrowing walk through a crowd of young people at Europe’s largest rave, provides a hefty final dose of pessimism. Shot entirely without music but with meticulously recorded, multi-channel location sound, the film’s soundtrack expertly and jarringly reinforces the sense of isolation, restraint, and absurdity that show Europe grinding to a halt.

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About Travis Bird

New Orleans musician and writer
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