Schanelec’s film here works like an outdoorsy chamber piece, based on Chekhov’s “The Seagull”, and shot with the kind of abstract and fluid ambiguity that has characterised most of her fascinating output.
Dir. Angela Schanelec
2007 | Germany | Drama | 97 mins | 1.85:1 | German
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for mature themes
Cast: Jirka Zett, Miriam Horwitz, Angela Schanelec
Plot: A family spends three summer days in a beautiful lake mansion close to Berlin. Together with her new lover, Irene visits her brother Alex, who still inhabits the house with his writer son Konstantin.
Awards: Official Selection (Berlin)
International Sales: Nachmittagfilm
Subject Matter: Moderate – Existential
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex – Elliptical
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Yet if you allow yourself to operate in her frequency as a curious observer, you will come to realise that her films are fascinating even if sometimes they can be difficult to ‘get’.
Afternoon plays to a similar tune, though one might see it as an outdoorsy chamber piece compared to the ‘city movie’ that was Marseille.
It retains Schanelec’s enigmatic touch, as characters who know one another begin to float away from each other after spending a few tepid, soul-searching days in their summer houses near a lake in the outskirts of Berlin.
At the centre is a young writer named Konstantin, who stays with his ailing uncle; Konstantin’s girlfriend comes around, and so does his mom (played by the director herself!) and her lover.
It’s all based on Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull”, and these characters (most of them writers and intellectuals) find themselves suffering from an inescapable ennui in each of their own ways.
Schanelec’s camera often starts out with a character in a close-up as he or she converses with another person. Even though we might recognise who the other party is from his or her voice, we are never always sure; after a minute or two, the camera will then pan to ‘reveal’ the person who is off-frame.
This technique will bore the hell out of impatient viewers, but it is the film’s raison d’être as it slowly builds an undercurrent of simmering tension among the characters.
Shot with the kind of abstract and fluid ambiguity that Schanelec is known for, Afternoon will reward viewers who are up for an arthouse challenge.