In some ways, I stick to Bela Tarr. Fred Kelemen, German filmmaker and cinematographer, had been a regular at Tarr’s set. He was cinematographer for his latest and last film, The Turin Horse (2011), for instance, as well as for his 2007 Cannes entry The Man from London. This collaboration between Tarr and Kelemen made perfect sense to me from the minute I watched one of the latter’s film at the Slow Cinema weekend in Newcastle last year.
Frost (1994) was a film in a trilogy that showed the characters at the very bottom of dignity. No, actually, they didn’t have dignity anymore. They merely tried to survive somehow, in between alcohol abuse, domestic violence, rape, and other things that can turn life into hell. Which is one thing, Frost demonstrated.
Krisana (Fallen) is, I believe, Kelemen’s first solo project since his 1990s trilogy Frost, Nightfall and Fate. Released in 2005, the film follows a man’s attempt at trying to learn more about a woman, whose suicide he perhaps could have prevented if he hadn’t kept walking on the bridge she planned to jump of. The man looks at her, then turns around and keeps walking, until he hears a splash and a cry for help. But he is unable to find her.
The beginning of the film sets the tone, and is very similar to all of Kelemen’s films, and, in fact, not all too different from Tarr’s films. The man calls the police, and when he gets questioned in the backseat of a car, the police man begins a monologue-like rant on suicide and the downfall of society. He argues:
“Man has lost his way. He’s lost himself. Something in him is torn apart. There is an open wound in this society. It’s bleeding. And I’m surprised at those who haven’t done it yet. Not to mention those who are vegetating on the edge, who are living like animals, who are murdering, robbing, and running amok for one more day of life, their bloody life.”
Appropriately, the film is shot in stark black-and-white. I tend to prefer monochrome aesthetics in film, but in this case especially, I don’t think it could have been different. The film treats dark (and often very much neglected) subject in society. A film about despair, vegetating, the downfall of society etc wouldn’t be nearly as effective if shot in colour.
There is also an interesting presence of the night. I have come to find the theme of the night quite interesting. There is something about black-and-white films making use of the night. Perhaps, this is a way to reinforce the darkness. On the one hand, it could denote danger and uncertainty. On the other, it is a definite veil for anonymity and solitude. If there is something terrible we imagine, then we usually link it to the night. There is the suicide in Krisana, a possible murder in The Man from London, a rape in Frost. This all complies with our perception of the night. However, in choosing black-and-white for the entire film, the directors, in this case Kelemen, make a statement.
There is darkness in every hour of the day. Just as the policeman said, there are so many people who suffer, but we don’t notice them, until they commit suicide. Only then we start to really care about them. The black-and-white aesthetics – in Kelemen’s but also in Tarr’s films – bring exactly this to the front, in combination with their themes. The same is true for Lav Diaz’s films.
I would say that there is a group of filmmakers who use specific colour aesthetics to comment on going-ons in society. I find this to be a neglected field in the context of Slow Cinema. There is always talk about the long-takes, and the mundane activities they are representing. But there is a huge lack of detailed analysis of aesthetics (that’s what I’m here for!).
One last thing: Krisana appears to be a blueprint for the cinematography for The Man from London. One scene in particular reminds me of it; the circling of the camera around two characters sitting in a pub and talking to each other. Kelemen has perfected it a little two years later, but you can pretty much see why The Man from London turned out the way it did. Besides, it always reminds me of how important cinematographers are. We tend to celebrate directors for their work. At the same time, we forget that some other people, like the cinematographer, have a huge stake in the production of films, too.