In collaboration with the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, Josef Dabernig's Stabat Mater (2016) is showing exclusively on MUBI from June 29 - July 29, 2017 as part of the series Competing at Oberhausen.
Let me start with some subjective impact and personal implications in reference to this film.
Both partners of my camera operator and one artist friend were working in their younger years at the same modeling agency and are now mothers of children around 10 years old. This triggered in me the concept of a tribute to the mother in the sense that former photo models are conditioned by their children towards a shift in responsibility and social acceptance.
Contemporaneous to these reflections on sorrowful mothers, my long-term director of photography Christian Giesser was encouraging me to shoot in southern Italy, recalling our work in the region for Jogging (2000) and Lancia Thema (2005). That called back my memory from 20 years ago of a remote spa resort on the east coast of Apulia—a weird place with some Oriental-inspired buildings against the backdrop of virtually sculptural cliff formations constituting a huge natural bathing pool. A location visit revealed a proper site for accommodation and indoor shootings in the form of a hotel, left over architecture in the monumental style of the fascist era.
The mothers and children in the film are played by the former models and their children, and the cast was completed by my wife as grandmother along with our grandson. Additional cast members were the above mentioned friend and me in the role of waiters, my brother’s presence joined by the spa’s secretary and a special appearance by the hotel director. By name, these are Sabine and Emma Gruber, Kathrin and Laurence Schulz, Isabella Hollauf and Otto Dabernig, Markus Scherer, Wolfgang Dabernig, Immacolata Giuseppa Cozza and Gaetano Milone.
The formal approach was a concise implementation of the interior/exterior dialectic into the plot.
Acoustically, this should be underlined inside with an organ etude by Christoph Herndler based on one of Schubert’s Stabat Mater themes. The outside shots—following a landscape picture ductus and only in the closing scenes opening up to the cast—are underscored by a narrative voice reciting a text penned by Bruno Pellandini. It is, after Rosa coeli (2003) and Herna (2010), my third attempt to work with the same writer on a sort of double-narration, where picture and text narrations follow unlinked paths.
In a structural sense one could say that the mother-child (non-)relationship finds an equivalent in an inside-outside dialectic, and on the level of sound the sad organ play finds its counterpoint in an allegedly displaced pessimist text. I wouldn’t go further to state my approach to an assembly of narrative fragments playing with the balance of correlations and contradictions in a formal context of geometry and structure. Perhaps—with a grotesque undertone—one could say that the geometry of love in Stabat Mater is imagined as the geometry of the cold and of death.