Ekkehard Knörer @ jumpcut.de wrote:
Dominik Graf makes movies for TV that are bigger than TV, but in his case this might be not a problem at all. It seems that his films work best as movies made for TV, TV as movies. This is because of the hackneyed stories he and his writers certainly twist and turn – without the intention, however, of turning them into art. Or rather, it is an art that turns its back to TV. This movement of turning its back remains important, though, as a gesture, a gesture that works best at the place it turns away from: TV. Dominik Graf’s art is an art of transcending TV by means of using it, of reproducing it in a radically transformed way. It remains recognizable in the stories, the motives – not the emotions, though. Where TV usually likes to be comforting Graf’s films are cruel and alienating. He has made movies for the big screen, to be sure, but in the last ten years (and these are the years in which he has become a truly unique director) his two attempts – Die Sieger and A map of the Human Heart – were terrible flops, not with critics but commercially. Which is a pity mostly for foreign audiences, as for them it is virtually impossible to get hold of the films of one of German’s finest directors.
The music working against the images, not with the images, already in the beginning, Dieter Schleip’s atonal sounds, similar to the first scenes of Graf’s “Deine besten Jahre” (the two films are part of the same trilogy), once again: a party, a woman who feels rather than knows that something is wrong, that nobody is telling her the truth. Dominik Graf is, in this film more than ever before, a master of atmosphere. Here a shot of on object, there an accent by Schleip’s music; a great scene, later on, a shot showing a pavillion, in the garden, radiating whiteness in the dark of the night, no relation to the narrative and not a symbol, either. This visual sculpting of objects has nothing to do with symbolization or metaphor, but with the use of the object as a leitmotif; the old technique of the novella, but completely free of any meaning forced upon it. Graf evoques complexities, in a second, a gaze, a sound, the camera’s uneasy shaking, a quick cut.
The story is hackneyed from beginning to end, but this is not at all unusual for Graf. He forces true feeling out of hackneyed stories, reaching beyond – and moving in the beyond of – mimetic authenticity. I don’t know any other director who does it quite like Graf, and Graf in the last years has honed his craft, has become a singular master in this kind of wringing truth out of cliché. And just as the sound often goes against the grain of the image the actors go against the grain of psychological convention. There is intense emotion, but it is interrupted at the exact point where it could turn into explanatory moves. Graf’s interruptive way of narration chases from one emotional climax to the next, but these climaxes remain erratic exactly because he burns all the bridges between them. Image and sound are connected, pitted against each other, in syncopic rhythm, pauses are placed at the most unexpected moments; blissful ignorance of realism, happy and even in its happiness subversive reliance to the most hackneyed twists and turns, create an atmosphere in which everything seems possible. Some of the scripts (he doesn’t write them but collaborates closely with his writers) want too much – there is always a fine line he sometimes steps over, but even when he doesn’t step over it he always works and succeeds exaclty within the realm of the “too much”. The “too much” is the very medium he works and sculpts in.
Text and dialogue are central to his films, as he usually aims at melodrama. Melodrama needs speech, explanation, feverish incitement of emotion by words. Graf’s actors always are talking actors (compared to Angela Schanelec’s actors, for example, and Jessica Schwarz and Mattias Schweighoefer do, once again, a great job) -, they are incited and excited, circling and moving around a secret that has to remain hidden. And it is a nonexistent secret, to be sure, that in this paradoxical form regulates the modulation and erratic flow of emotions Graf gets out of cliché, improbability and even the ridiculous. We, however, are never directly close-circuited to this flow and melodrama, this economy of circulating emotion, but remain at a remove, which does not mean: aloof – we are put, rather, in a complex relation to the circuit that makes the story. There is no single figure we can trust, we can identify with, there is no pure or reliable emotion for us to fall back to. It’s an economy of reception doubling and displacing the narrative’s economy in unpredictable ways.
“Kalter Frühling” has a moralistic message and an amoral ending. Sylvia, the temporarily disherited daughter, will have taken revenge, will have betrayed her father, will have manipulated her mother in the most infamous way and will have fulfilled her desires in a deeply disturbing manner. She has won everything and she has lost her soul. The family’s restitution remains deeply ironic as it is founded on nothing but betrayal. Even the last word, and therein lies the film’s radicality, is truth and lie at the same time. “Is everything all right”, the father asks at the moment when nothing will ever possibly be remedied. “Is everything all right?”. “Yes”, the daughter says, which is sheer truth and sheer lie, a truth and a lie she will now live.
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