Fata Morgana

Fata Morgana


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

It’s difficult to know how Peter Schreiner formats his scripts, but in the English subtitles that accompany his latest film, each line of dialogue begins and ends in ellipses, which might be taken to suggest that the film and every incident within it is an interruption of some kind, a momentary occurrence in an ever-transient world. With its unhurried 140 minutes shared between a house in Lausitz, Germany and the remote terrain of the Libyan Desert, Fata Morgana is a gruelling but beautiful tester full of competing textures – in both the visual and material sense of the word – as a man (Christian Schmidt) and a woman (Guiliana Pachner) converse with one another on the meaning(s) of life, death, the world and how the three might interrelate.

This invigorating tone poem is far more difficult to describe than it is to sit through. Its title evokes Herzog’s meandering 1969 film of the same name, but better reference points might be Tarkovsky at his most arduously spiritual or the equally difficult and provocative black-and-white films of Elias E. Merhige. All of which is to say: not much happens, and yet the whole thing flies by. The film has a persistent emphasis upon the experiential: it wants to us to wander alongside its own ponderous musings, to participate in its thematic discussions, and to spend time figuring it all out. Whether or not one is convinced that the film is as interpretable as it presumably wishes to be is another matter, but Schreiner’s monochrome HD imagery binds spells in itself.

Copy picture

It’s not just in its glacial pacing that we see Fata Morgana is concerned with time; there are multiple temporalities at work in the film’s own language. Here, man and indeed woman are viewed as fragile and innately insignificant beings through planetary, geological and even perhaps cosmic frameworks. Here, humans are lonely figures trekking through space, constructing their own worldly perspective in order to combat feelings of temporal and therefore spatial isolation – just as they fashion their means of production from material resources in order to survive from one day to the next. Schmidt’s character looks to hold a tree branch like a gun, but then starts playing it like a guitar, chiming with that ape in the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which employs a bone as a weapon; the ability to reconfigure nature is the defining feature of homo sapiens.

Elsewhere, the sun gradually sets behind a dune; the moon floats high in the heavens. The unperceived and unperceivable violence of natural phenomena: facial wrinkles, the contours of time; a chunk of tree trunk, the fine details of human hair. And a contrast that recalls the repeated spatial juxtapositions of Roeg’s Walkabout (1970): one moment a house of bricks, another moment the vast expanse of a desert. Are reminders of our cosmic insignificance welcome or unhelpful, though? Schreiner presumably wants to elicit a range of views, but when Schmidt remarks that “there are people who fear death their whole life and forget how to live” and that “the anxiety can strangle you”, one might legitimately respond: speak for yourself.

Reviewed on: 22 Apr 2013
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Musings on the meanings of life, death and the world.

Director: Peter Schreiner

Writer: Peter Schreiner

Starring: Christian Schmidt, Guiliana Pachner

Year: 2013

Runtime: 140 minutes

Country: Austria


Karlovy 2013

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