Dane Komljen on Angela Schanelec's "Afternoon"

In a chapter from the Viennale's new book devoted to Angela Schanelec, director and actor Dane Komljen reflects on her 2007 film.
Dane Komljen

This is one of the texts featured in the book "Angela Schanalec: Textur #1" (2019) edited by James Lattimer and Eva Sangiorgi and published by the Vienna International Film Festival to coincide with a "Monografie" of the German director’s oeuvre at this year’s festival. It’s also the first edition of Textur, an ongoing publication series to be published by the Viennale that embraces simplicity, heterogeneity, and sensation in exploring individual filmmakers’ work.

Angela Schanelec

Agnes asks Konstantin if he understands. Konstantin replies that it’s she that doesn't understand him. Agnes says to Max that he might understand Konstantin. Max replies that there's nothing easier to understand than fear. Irene says to Max and Alex that she doesn't know if anyone truly understands, not least because she struggles to do so herself. 

Agnes is Konstantin's former lover, Max is Irene's new one. Konstantin is Irene's son, Alex her brother. All this is hard to discern, it helps if one’s read Chekhov, but even then it takes time to establish these relationships. One of Schanelec’s many achievements is how she renders family structures uncertain. It becomes apparent how family functions as a stage. Being a mother, sister, son, brother or lover are all parts that have been allocated and ones that are more or less comfortable to inhabit, although it feels like all the characters are trying to escape from the material they’re supposed to work with.

This is not, then, a film about relations, but about the singularity of everything and everyone. It is also a film about how these singularities coexist. It contains some of most tender pans in cinema, where each person is given a space, a duration, and is allowed to be, even as the frame keeps moving to reveal that someone else is witnessing the same moment.

Afternoon is a film about a series of afternoons spent by the family at the house by a lake where only Alex and Konstantin now live. But it is also a film about afternoons themselves, the transient nature of their light, about the relentless passing of time: a deck of colourful cards being played with over and over, a pair of uncomfortable shoes that need to be replaced with new ones, a black and white swimsuit that's left to dry on the floor before being washed, the cherries placed on the vessel next to the red daisies, a hunger that is suddenly gone.

It begins and ends with a stage. First, we find ourselves at a theatre, the first words uttered: “So heavy.'” We see a fragment of a rehearsal where Irene pets a dog tenderly. Here she is allowed to be something else. The other one is the bathing platform in the middle of the lake. Like Irene, Konstantin takes to this “stage” to escape the role he’s been given. He emerges from the cold water and climbs onto it, almost disappearing from view and from this life. So heavy. But the film doesn't end there. We see Irene once more, her face witnessing this moment from the distant shore. If there is any more certainty this time, it’s only that she can’t understand what she has seen.

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Angela SchanelecDane KomljenViennaleViennale 2019
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