Archiv der Kategorie: English

Who’ll Break the Circle?

Based on the film by Luchino Visconti: Obsession, Toneelgroep Amsterdam / Barbican Centre, London / Wiener Festwochen (Director: Ivo van Hove)

By Sascha Krieger

Emptiness. A bare, somewhat modernist room filled with nothingness. Cool, functional, lifeless. Two people, far apart. If there is a relationship, it’s one of power. The distance is palpable. In the middle of Jan Versweyveld’s stage, there is an old large engine hanging from the ceiling. It stutters then goes out. A young man enters the stage, wistfully playing the harmonica. He will get the engine started – in more than one way. Luchino Visconti’s debut film Ossessione is a tale of unbridled passion and its destructiveness. The juxtaposition of a cold, power-based marriage and the heat of an obsessive affair leads to disaster. There is no middle ground, no gray among the black and the white. In Ivo van Hove’s stage adaptation, the sweltering heat of the film is replaced by a chilling coolness. Spaces are wide, distances large, bodies tense. When Gino, the young drifter, and Hanna, the oppressed, wife finally get together, a suspended accordion is playing. The bodies dance a ballet of constricted, obsessive passion. The climax is signalled by long-held dissonant chord. Closeness is achieved, the distance overcome. Nothing is good.

The Barbican Centre (Image: Sascha Krieger)

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When the World Is Closing In

Edward Albee: The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London (Director: Ian Rickson)

By Sascha Krieger

„Notes toward a definition of tragedy“. This is the subtitle Edward Albee gave his 2002 Tony and Pulitzer winning play The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? What he was clearly interested in here is how the Aristotelian idea of tragedy can relate to and be transported into our enlightened, free, individualistic and democratic present days? A great man’s downfall at the hands of fate due to transgressions he might not even be in control of – how is that even conceivable today? He wasn’t the first to ask these questions in the modern age: Tennessee Williams‘ plays often test tragedic structure – interestingly often with female characters in the „hero’s“ role – Arthur Miller conceived Death of a Salesman as a modern tragedy, replacing the „great“ with the „ordinary“ man. Albee’s focus is different: he looks at what a „transgression“ triggering the mechanics of tragedy might be today and he asks society whether it has completely shade its taboo-enhancing, punishing nature yet. The answers he comes up with in The Goat are rather terrifying.

Theatre Royal Haymarket (Image: Sascha Krieger)

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When Darkness Comes

Edward Albee: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Harold Pinter Theatre, London (Director: James MacDonald)

By Sascha Krieger

There seems to be a sense out there in what we call the „Western world“ of decline, of having our best days behind us, a desire to find our way back to a golden age when things were clearer, better, less, confusing, more black and white. In the United States, for example, a hollow reality TV character just got elected President on the stunningly meaningless promise to „Make America Great Again“. When, one might ask, was America „great“ and what was its greatness? Many point back to the 1950s, an idyllic yet modern, quiet yet industrial America unperturbed by social unrest, fresh off winning a world war, self-confident and free from self-doubt. Sure, there was McCarthy, moral oppression and a deeply entrenched patriarchal society but aren’t those minor flaws – or perhaps none at all? Edward Albee’s perennial audience favourite Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is set against this America’s backdrop. A well-respected couple, he a college professor, she the university President’s daughter, inviting a new teacher and his wife into their home. What could go wrong? The answer should be pretty well-known by now: everything. For, beyond the shiny surface lies a yawning abyss, a black nothingness of fear and desolation. The black hole of a world on the brink of distinction.

The Harold Pinter Theatre (Image: Sascha Krieger)

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The Story of It All

Tom Stoppard: Travesties, Menier Chocolate Factory / Apollo Theatre, London (Director: Patrick Marber)

By Sascha Krieger

1920s music is playing, the battered red curtain evokes the heyday of comic theatre and the music hall. An old man in a worn out bathrobe and a tattered straw hat shuffles on stage. He tries to raise the curtain, taps on it, smiles uneasily. First, nothing happens, then, slowly, the curtain goes up, an cluttered old library in revealed, books everywhere, pages on the floor, a labyrinth of remembered – and forgotten – knowledge. In Tom Stoppard’s early play Travesties, Henry Carr, an employee at the British Consulate in Zurich in 1917, remembers the days when the swiss city was a centre of revolution: Lenin in exile, James Joyce re-inventing the novel, Dada questioning the very nature of art. And Carr at the centre of it all, spying on Lenin, becoming friends with Dada hero Tristan Tzara, playing in a theatre production put on by Joyce. At least this is how he remembers it. It will be only at the very end, that the audience will know how unreliable Carr as a narrator is. He re-invents himself in the process, tells of meetings that never could have happened and mixes up life and art by transforming his story, or rather stories, into a version of Oscar Wilde’s The importance of Being Earnest, the very play he acted in in Zurich.

The Apollo Theatre (Image: Sascha Krieger)

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Land of the Faceless

Martin Crimp: The Treatment, Almeida Theatre, London (Director: Lyndsey Turner)

By Sascha Krieger

A woman tells her story to a couple (a married one, by the way) of film producers. They are interested, but see room for clarification here, a little tightening of the story there. More people come on board, a writer, the film’s potential star, everyone with their own agenda, their own desire to control the story. So the woman loses hers and she won’t be the only one. Trying to regain control, she gives it up completely. This, admittedly, is a rather rough summary of Martin Crimp’s play The Treatment, an ambivalent title, of course, primarily referring to the term the film industry gives a short project summary used to pitch it, but also evoking the treatment reality and those who live it receive at the hands of a machine that cares about box office numbers and little else. Reality has a difficult position in this play which – while starting out in the false security of a realistic scene – soon drifts off. Into the abstract, the metatheatrical, the thriller and horror spaces. The way people lose control over there lives, the way outside forces appear and take over, the slow building up of a threatening, claustrophobic, stifling atmosphere are reminiscent of the plays of Harold Pinter, even though, unlike in the works of the Nobel Laureate, there is a distinct and recognisable reality The Treatment plays off.

The Almeida Theatre (Image: Sascha Krieger)

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Playing Death

Tom Stoppard: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Old Vic, London (Director: David Leveaux)

By Sascha Krieger

At the end, there is a familiar display: a pile of bodies covering the stage, a king, a queen, a prince, all slain, lamented, mourned. It’s the end of Hamlet, a royal family all wiped out, a Norwegian prince vowing to remember them an d to restore the realm’s greatness in their name. However, as any student of history knows: for every „great person“ mourned, there are hundreds, thousands discarded. Nameless, faceless victims who do not count or matter and never have. The waste of human ambition, thrown on history’s garbage heap. William Shakespeare knew about this and yet, he did play this game, too. His nameless masses, sacrificed without hesitation to advance once objectives, are named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. At the end of David Leveaux‘ production, they are missing from the elaborate tableau of carnage. They die off stage in Hamlet  and they do so here. Just before the final image, they have their lights turned off, literally. Footnotes, material to be dispensed with.

The Old Vic (Image: Sascha Krieger)

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Black and Blue

Film review: Moonlight (Director: Barry Jenkins)

By Sascha Krieger

In the moonlight, all black boys look blue. A drug dealer repeats this sentence, heard as a child from an old lady, to a young, shy, bullied boy. At the end of the film, we see the boy, in the moonlight at the beach, looking back at us, shining blue. Between this unfolds what was rightly – though clumsily – named the year’s best film at the 2017 Academy Awards. Moonlight tells the story of a black boy who starts out as „Little“, a tiny, shy, silent, soft-seeming boy bullied by his peers. Hiding in a drug hole, he is discovered by a dealer, Juan, who becomes an unlikely surrogate father while the drugs he sells the boy’s mother begin to destroy any home the boy has had. This is part one. Part two is called „Chiron“, the boy’s real name. Now a teenager but more an outsider than ever he experiences the pangs of being different, struggles with a broken home and his blossoming sexuality which only confirms to him that he’s not like the rest. At the end he makes a choice that brings him to part three, „Black“, the name he once rejected and now adopts. It’s the name of a tough drug dealer with a drug dealer’s muscle, a drug dealer’s style, a drug dealer’s car. A man who’s conforming to role models he sees around him, to a dominating interpretation of masculinity, to what he has learned is what a man is supposed to be like. A man who’s become what he thinks the world wants him to be. A man who seems to have forgotten who he is.

Bild: © A24 / DCM

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Berlinale 2017: Final Thoughts

By Sascha Krieger

Two lonely people meet as a pair of deer in their dreams, they shyly explore each other and reluctantly fall in love, slowly beginning to crack their shells they’ve constructed to keep a hostile world out. Testről és lélekről, this year’s deserved Golden Bear winner is a fragile, poetic, deeply intimate celebration of the right to even the tiniest measure of private happiness. How do film makers respond to a world in crisis, to a rise in nationalism, hatred, racism, an erosion in fundamental democratic values all over the world, a shifting of certainties, a crumbling of foundations in liberal societies? If this year’s Berlinale is any indicator, the answer is two-fold: first, by focusing on the private, the individual fight for themselves, their happiness, their sanity. The best films in this edition’s competition belong to this category and find the political in the private: in a woman’s struggle for her son and her soul (Félicité), in the crisis of society’s cradle, the family (The PartyThe Dinner), in individual fights for dignity in which even the so-called „refugee crisis“ finds place (Toivon tuolla puolen) or in a trans woman’s journey past hat and abuse (Una mujer fantástica). Others such as the only remarkable German entry Helle Nächte refuse the political sphere altogether.

Winner of the Golden Bear: Testről és lélekről (Image: Berlinale)

Winner of the Golden Bear: Testről és lélekről (Image: Berlinale)

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Berlinale 2017: Day 7

By Sascha Krieger

Return to Montauk (Competition / Germany, France, Ireland / Director: Volker Schlöndorff)

Max and Rebecca used to be in love years ago. Now Max, a successful novelist, returns to New Your City, where Rebecca has made a lot of money as a top lawyer. Max has written a book in which she’s heavily featured which doesn’t leave her cold. So she takes him on a trip to Montauk at the very end of Long Island. He wants to rekindle their love, she doesn’t. That’s the story which is peppered with motives of regret, lost love and the wish to rewrite the past, correct the wrongs, start over – the business of writing, of course. Stellan Skarsgård and Nina Hoss play the couple and they do so with a restrained routine that it shares with the entire film. Sure, Volker Schlöndorff can create a nice narrative flow and exquisite images that rely heavily on the strained and pained faces (the only interwsting performance is Susanne Wolff’s as Max‘ loving and used current girlfriend). And of course. Schlöndorff and Colm Tóibín are fine story-tellers and perfectly capable of writing a good script. So where did it all go wrong? Maybe it was the dedication to Max Frisch, a hero of Schlöndorff’s that curtailed his creativity. For what we have here is a heavy-handed doomed love story meets artist drama meet sentimental looking back movie that’s full of meaningful looks, big lines and characterisation using the big brush. Everything is existential and turns out to be bland. Return to Montauk is what it would look like if Schlöndorff ever directed a Rosamunde Pilcher film.

Return to Montauk (Image: © Wild Bunch Germany 2017 / Ann Ray)

Return to Montauk (Image: © Wild Bunch Germany 2017 / Ann Ray)

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Berlinale 2017: Day 6

By Sascha Krieger

Toivon tuolla puolen (Competition / Finland, Germany / Director: Aki Kaurismäki)

A man leaves his wife and opens a restaurant. A Syrian refugee arrives on a coal ship. Two stories Aki Kaurismäki lets run parallel for the first half of this film. Which is a problem. The first of those stories is pure Kaurismäki: Stony, stoic faces, lightly darkish drab interiors, images as rigid and dry as his characters. The least spectacular leaving scene in film history starts a melancholy and drily funny story about people who don’t dare give up and who have hearts of gold beneath those faces of stone. Among Kaurismäki’s stories about the (sometimes not so) little man plodding on stoically to find a tiny little bit of happiness, this is an exemplary one. But there is a second one, that of Khaled from Aleppo. His narrative strand feels generic like an essay slash pamphlet about refugees caught in the mills of bureaucracy, more of a newspaper article than a film. When both strands are combined as the two men meet in a memorable scene, the film picks up speed. The driest of humour accompanies what is melancholic existential comedy meets adventure tale. it would have done the film much good to focus on these strangely easily meeting world s and leave out the bland social drama complete with a murderous Nazi gang. As it is, the film is a solid addition to Kaurismäki’s oeuvre but not more than that.

 (Image: Malla Hukkanen © Sputnik Oy)

Toivon tuolla puolen (Image: Malla Hukkanen © Sputnik Oy)

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