Art Cinema OFFoff invites German filmmaker Helena Wittmann to present a carte blanche program around her new film Human Flowers of Flesh – screening at Film Fest Gent.
Helena Wittmann (b. 1982) studied at the art academy in Hamburg where she was a student of Berlin School auteur Angela Schanelec (I Was at Home But, The Dreamed Path, Orly). Her feature debut Drift (2017) was immediately received as one of the most daring and impressive films of recent years. Drift invoked Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967) and with its follow-up Human Flowers of Flesh, shot herself on 16mm film, she again shows her affinity with the experimental film tradition. An ideal guest for OFFoff, Wittmann has shown her work at the Locarno, Oberhausen and Venice film festivals, the Viennale, FID Marseille, IFFR, New Directors/New Films, TIFF Wavelengths and Tate Modern, among others.
In her carte blanche, Wittmann connects some absolute classics from the experimental canon to young work. She combines a short film of her own, Wildnis (2013), with an avant-garde landmark she wrote about as a student, Unsere Afrikareise (1966) by Viennese vanguard Peter Kubelka. A source of inspiration cited in Human Flowers of Flesh is the novel The Sailor from Gibraltar (1952) by Marguerite Duras, the French writer-filmmaker of whom Wittmann really wants to share Les Mains négatives (1979). She also finds kinship in the contemporary work of Dane Komljen (All the Cities of the North) and includes his inventive Phantasiesätze (2017). As a closing film, Wittmann chooses the first experimental film she ever saw and often thought back to while making Human Flowers of Flesh: Stan Brakhage’s magical Mothlight (1963). “Kind of a wild program,” Wittmann notes.
“Among a new generation of German filmmakers, Hamburg’s Helena Wittmann is uniquely elemental, even primal, in her concerns. Her bewitching sophomore feature Human Flowers of Flesh, an elliptical tale of female desire set on the high seas, pushes Wittmann’s materialist impulses further than ever. The film’s oceanic narrative progression is nothing if not imposing.”
— Jordan Cronk
All films will be shown in their original format. The 35mm copy of Les Mains négatives will be subtitled live in English. Followed by a conversation with Helena Wittmann about her influences and way of working.
More info via OFFoff.be
Tuesday October 18th - 20:00
• Peter Kubelka - Unsere Afrikareie (AT • 1966 • 13' • kleur • 16mm)
• Helena Wittmann - Wildnis (DE • 2013 • 12' • kleur • digitaal)
• Dane Komljen - Phantasiesätze (DK/DE • 2017 • 17' • kleur • digitaal)
• Marguerite Duras - Les Mains négatives (FR • 1979 • 14' • kleur • 35mm • en ond)
• Stan Brakhage - Mothlight (US • 1963 • 4' • kleur • stil • 16mm)
In 1961, Kubelka was hired to document the African hunting trip of a group of European tourists. He accompanied them, recorded many hours of film and sound, but afterwards hijacked the material and spent five years editing this material into a most unconventional film. The result, Unsere Afrikareise, is one of the most densely packed 12½ minutes in film history, and makes truly extraordinary use of the creative possibilities of sound.
Kubelka weds an image to a sound recorded elsewhere. He calls these combinations “sync events”, e.g. a gunshot appears to shoot a hat off a man’s head, or white and black men shake hands to the sound of thunder. By combining these disparate elements, Kubelka makes “articulations” (his words), which fuse separate pieces both rhythmically and thematically in a manner possible only in film.
— Fred Camper
“For me, Unsere Afrikareise is, in its own genre, the most intense sound film that exists.”
— Peter Kubelka
“Unsere Afrikareise is about the richest, most articulate, and most compressed film I have ever seen. I have seen it four times and I am going to see it many, many times more, and the more I see it, the more I see in it. Kubelka’s film is one of cinema’s few masterpieces and a work of such great perfection that it forces one to re-evaluate everything that one knew about cinema. The incredible artistry of this man, his incredible patience. (He worked on Unsere Afrikareise for five years; the film is 12 and a half minutes long.) His methods of working (he learned by heart 14 hours of tapes and three hours of film, frame by frame), and the beauty of his accomplishment makes the rest of us look like amateurs.”
— Jonas Mekas
“One of the most sophisticated visions in the history of the cinema.”
— P. Adams Sitney
Potatoes have to be peeled, withered orchid blossoms must be plucked. Then everything is in order.
In addition to demonstrating the unexpected complexities of individual life paths, Wildnis (The Wild) establishes the possibility of “cinematic space” becoming a type of “third space”. Two seemingly contrasting spaces merge to construct a new space. The first space is the living room of a retired couple. The second space is embodied in Super 8 recordings filmed by the old man during his numerous trips to Africa and Asia during the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. The pictures show exotic animals which are projected directly onto the walls and furniture of the house. The assembly of these differing spaces does not create a more succinct boundary between them, but rather assists in the mingling of the two spaces. In this fleeting moment of third space, as it is limited by time, a new cinematic reality is formed. — Helena Wittmann
“In the late 1920s, Walter Benjamin played a game with a 11-year-old girl. He would give her a few words, not less than five, not more than ten. She was then supposed to forge sentences out of these lexical groups, to give order to the arbitrary, to generate sense. The phrases she came up with were less about creating one meaning, and more about producing a state of flux. They were a work of moving and arranging, sliding and linking, creating a space where nothing was left out. (…) With Fantasy Sentences, I also played a game, one where you imagine a habitat where humans are only present via all the many things they left behind. What if a city consists of nothing, but coexisting traces? Family archives of black and white photos, Super 8 and Hi8 footage as repositories of memory. Housing blocks and supermarkets, bars and cinema theatres as repositories of memory. What about trees and bushes, birds and wolves, dust and concrete? How do they remember? What would they make of images of friends spending their time by the river? How would they read them? Who would do the translating? What would echo? And what would echo back? That was where our fantasy took us.”
— Dane Komljen
The hand paintings found in the Magdalenian caves of Sub-Atlantic Europe are called negative hands. The outline of these hands – laid wide open on the stone – was coated with colour. Most often blue, black. Sometimes red. No explanation has been found for this practice. From Paris’ Bastille to the Champs-Élysées, Les Mains négatives travels the empty streets at dawn in a continuous shot. Meditating on love and loss and far off places, Marguerite Duras’ voiceover populates the scene as the city wakes, transitioning from night to day.
“Duras is becoming more and more important. There’s a connection. Her idea of filmmaking or how she treats language. She’s very rigorous, but what entered also into Human Flowers of Flesh is a certain kind of romanticism. She managed to do that without getting into any kind of kitsch. It’s always very profound and concrete.”
— Helena Wittmann
Stan Brakhage’s obsession with creating films is like the attraction of an insect to the light: compulsive, inexplicable and self-destructive. A “found foliage” film, Mothlight is made without a camera. Brakhage pasted mothwings and flowers between two layers of clear 16mm Mylar editing tape and ran it through the printing machine, leading to a resurrection in the projector’s beam. Mothlight is a paradoxical preservation of pieces of dead moths in the eternal medium of light (which is life and draws the moth to death); so it flutters through its very disintegration.
“Not the camera but the projector; not a representation but the thing itself, a ribbon of once-living stuff preserved in celluloid coursing along, flashing before our eyes: It was neither Muybridge’s 1879 motion studies nor the Lumière brothers’ 1895 actualités nor even Peter Kubelka’s imageless flicker film Arnulf Rainer (1960) that truly manifested the very essence of cinema but the film-object Mothlight, a three-minute-thirteen-second motion-picture collage assembled and printed by Stan Brakhage… An eyeblink of a movie that makes light of theory.”
— J. Hoberman