Sunday, April 14, 2013

Kino! ’13: Revenants & Kalifornia

If the world were to end, would an old hippie even notice?  The quality of his life would not change much, or so it seems in Andreas Bolm’s The Revenants, part of a double bill of short-ish films screening this year during MoMA’s annual German film series, Kino!

Volker and Ada live deep in the forest with their presumed son Fabian.  Much of their lives involve the verdant woods, but one would not quite say they live in concert with nature.  Periodically, we hear radio reports and voice-overs telling a much more eventful story that is not in-synch with the lulling visuals Bolm presents.  In the narrated narrative an apocalyptic event is underway.  Yet, the central characters remain preoccupied with their own issues.  Ever the old New Leftie, Volker disdains the “militarism” of the hazmat response teams, while Ada and Fabian agonize over his older brother’s mysterious absence.

Or so we glean.  As a hyrid-whatsit, there is plenty of space for viewers to impose their own meaning on Revenant’s ambiguous form.  Bolm provides a few signposts to guide the traffic, but he also enjoys throwing in bits of jarring eccentricity, such as the live rehearsals of Fabian’s garage band friends.

Nonetheless, the apocalyptic narrative is strangely effective, precisely because it is implied so elliptically.  This is definitely a film only a select few will enjoy, but it is worth checking out as a way of stretching one’s cinematic palette.  It is far easier to step into a film like Malick’s To the Wonder, which has its rewards and will undoubtedly find its way into the national conversation in coming weeks, if you occasionally experiment with even more diffuse films.  It is also a good reason to join MoMA, because you can maintain your experimental sea legs once or twice a year without coughing up for an individual ticket.

Laura Mahlberg’s Kalifornia (absolutely not to be confused with the Brad Pitt-David Duchovny movie) is also decidedly quiet and unhurried, but it has a more structured narrative for audiences to follow.  Pavel is a Russian expat living in a detached mobile home somewhere in the German countryside.  After reconnecting from a figure from his past, he packs a bag and heads west towards California, without any sort of reservation or scrap of planning.

Pavel Bobrov is rather charming as his namesake, looking sort like a warmer and fuzzier Derek Jacobi.  Strictly speaking, very little happens on his road trip, but Mahlberg deftly uses her engaging protagonist as a humanist prism through which to refract the disenfranchised humanity he encounters along the way.  It is a small film, but very nicely performed and crafted (especially cinematographer Tony Krantz’s striking work).

Shrewdly, MoMA has scheduled the more accessible Kalifornia (trailer here) to screen before the more challenging Revenants.  Just about anyone interested in German cinema will appreciate Mahlberg’s film.  In contrast, The Revenants is a mixed bag that will appeal to a smaller, self-selecting crowd.  Recommended accordingly, both films screen at MoMA this coming Saturday (4/20) and the following Wednesday (4/24) as part of Kino! 2013: New Films from Germany. For those interested in German film and culture, the full series begins this Thursday (4/18) and concludes Wednesday the 24th.