Dec 17, 2013
Since I am in the process of viewing German auteur Edgar Reitz’s mammoth 11 episode and 925-minute magnum opus Heimat: A Chronicle of Germany (1984) aka Heimat - Eine deutsche Chronik, I have been in the mood to watch other ‘unconventional’ neo-Heimat/anti-Heimat films, which eventually led me to discovering the somewhat recent work Snowland (2005) aka Schneeland directed by Bavarian auteur Hans W. Geissendörfer (Carlos, The Wild Duck aka Die Wildente). Not unlike Reitz, Geissendörfer was a filmmaker associated with German New Cinema who had a series of failures with feature films and, as a result, would become mostly a television auteur who directed a number of ambitious TV miniseries, including Der Zauberberg (1982) aka The Magic Mountain, which is an adaption of Thomas Mann’s highly influential 1924 novel of the same name. Additionally, Geissendörfer is responsible for producing and partly directing the first real Teutonic soap opera, Lindenstraße (1985), which celebrated its 20th anniversary on 11th December 2005 with its 1045th episode and still airs to this day. Before viewing Schneeland, I had only seen Geissendörfer's award-winning debut feature Jonathan (1970) aka Vampire sterben nicht—a rather loose and sardonic 'anti-fascist' adaption of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) of the idiosyncratic Gothic ‘anti-Heimat’ variety—and I was fairly impressed, even if the film suffers from the sort counter-culture contamination typical of German films from that era. Undoubtedly, Geissendörfer has matured a lot as a filmmaker since he originally directed his first film Jonathan over four decades ago, as Schneeland is easily one of the most emotionally brutal and aesthetically/thematically stark yet paradoxically solacing films I have seen all year, as a work comparable to the malignantly melancholy ‘melodramas’ of contemporary kraut auteur Matthias Glasner, a filmmaker that managed to make a pathological serial rapist seem sympathetic in his devastating ‘rape epic’ Der Freie Wille (2006) aka The Free Will starring Jürgen Vogel. A neo-Gothic (anti)Heimat film set in the icy Nordic north about a morbidly depressed Swedish writer who decides to kill herself after her hubby dies tragically in a car accident and goes to the snowy Laplands to carry out her self-annihilation, only to happen upon a frozen elderly female corpse in the snow and discover a dark romance from the 1930s that involved said elderly female corpse, Schneeland is a horribly hopeless and majorly morbid melodrama that ultimately manages to find ‘hope’ in the most unlikely and unnerving of places and circumstances. Based on the novel Hohaj by Swedish author Elisabeth Rynell, Schneeland is an uncommonly angst and despair-ridden work about dark Nordic souls, redemption, and the will to survive and prevail under the most pathologically pernicious of circumstances, as a work that ultimately makes Noi the Albino (2003) aka Nói albino seem like a soulless pseudo-quirky hipster flick.
As her loving husband Ingmar (Martin Feifel) describes her, Swedish writer Elisabeth (Maria Schrader) is an emotionally plagued woman who finds it “easier to love than be loved.” Of course, when hubby Ingmar dies tragically and unexpectedly around Christmas time in a car wreck, Elisabeth develops an absolutely hysterical and decidedly debilitating level of anguish and melancholy, so she quickly decides to leave her young children with relatives and heads to the Laplands—a sparsely populated winter wonderland where she originally met her deceased husband—where she plans to end her life prematurely. On the way there, Elisabeth’s car breaks down in a blinding snowstorm, so she seeks help in the only cabin in sight, only to find that the elderly occupant has frozen to death and that all the animals on the farm have starved to death as a result in a horrifying scene that resembles a ‘Heimat Apocalypse.’ Upon entering the dead woman’s cabin and reading her old letters/diaries/etc., Elisabeth begins to piece together the life of the frozen dead woman, whose name was Ina (played popular German actress Julia Jentsch, who looks like a German equivalent to Anna Paquin, albeit much prettier). From there, Schneeland mostly focuses on a unlikely love story between peasant girl Ina—the true protagonist of the film—and a young and stoic stranger who is uncommonly handsome for a homeless man. Flashback to the 1930s, Ina’s life is forever changed when a wayfaring stranger named Aron (mainstream German actor Thomas Kretschmann) and his loyal dog Lurv mysteriously show up in the Laplands after traveling from an island halfway to Iceland (Aron speaks the Insular Nordic language of Faroese). Before meeting Ina, Aron is taken in as a lodger by husband and wife, Salomon (Oliver Stokowski) and Helga (Ina Weisse), but after the lady of the house becomes discernibly infatuated with the rather handsome stranger, it is decided by a handful of townspeople that he become a herdsman and live outside with the horses. Meanwhile, young lady Ina lives with her parents, who are subsistence farmers, not far from Aron's new outdoor residence. When her mother drops dead, Ina becomes the brutalized sex slave of her incestuous father Knövel (Ulrich Mühe of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others (2006), among countless other popular German-language films), who is a disfigured and demented hunchback who regards “life as his worst enemy” and who is fittingly nicknamed “Old Satan” by locals. Since Ina’s refuses to have sex with her creepily cold and callous father, he beats her into it, but she always resists and sometimes manages to get away. Of course, it is only a matter of time before Ina takes revenge against her insanely insidious devil of a daddy and Aron will be the sort of human archangel that will give her the strength to do so.
When Ina notices handsome Aron while frolicking around the cold countryside, she becomes infatuated and begins leaving him anonymous presents, thus ushering in their unconventional yet deeply romantic relationship. Not only is Ina obsessed with Aron’s rather masculine handsomeness, but she sees him as a savior and redeemer who will save her from her miserable monster of a fucked father. Somewhat autistic and socially retarded due to her exceedingly ‘eccentric’ upbringing as a forsaken girl deflowered by her own father and nurtured with incest, Ina decides one day to get totally naked in the freezing cold and offers herself to Aron. Instead of becoming sexually aroused by he unclad display, Aron is somewhat disturbed by Ina’s senseless sensual offering and immediately bundles her up in a blanket, thus demonstrating he is a true gentleman and protector and not some sick and craven sex fiend like Knövel. Meanwhile, Knövel gets his head busted in after a failed attempt at sexually pillaging his daughter, so Ina is forced to care for the now-bedridden old devil, which includes using hay to wipe excrement from his satanic shit-covered ass, among other aberrant things that no daughter should be expected to do, but she preservers due to her love for Aron. Whilst making love, Ina proclaims her love to Aron by stating “You healed me… You’ve cleaned me…” and he responds by stating “You’ve redeemed me.” And, indeed, Aron is not merely bullshitting to get a piece of Swedish tail because, as he confesses to Ina, his real name is not ‘Aron’ but ‘Kjartan Holt’ and he killed a man as a teenager who been using his widowed mother and has thus wandered somewhat aimlessly ever since as a form of self-ordained penance for his sins. After receiving Ina's unconditional love and affection, Aron feels like he has finally reached atonement and the two decide to marry. Knowing her fiend for a father will attempt to impede on her upcoming marriage, Ina decides to take preventive action and murders ‘Old Satan’ Knövel, but unfortunately something tragic happens to Aron aka Kjartan around the same time. Emotionally shattered, Ina still manages to tread on as she is pregnant with Aron’s unborn child. Flashback to the present, Elisabeth becomes completely inspired by Ina’s story of being able to live on after the death of her beloved and decides against killing herself. In the end, Elisabeth decides to return back to her children and they assumedly live happily ever after, or something approximating that.
A sort of Nordic neo-Gothic It's a Wonderful Life (1946) from Heimat hell, Schneeland is, among other things, easily one of the most dispiriting and gruesome yet strangely inspiring films I have ever seen, as if director Hans W. Geissendörfer found a small gleam of hope from the homelands and decided to reinvent the Heimat film for the pre-apocalyptic age in a totally trying celluloid work that, despite its daringly dark and disconcerting storyline, ultimately has a positive message about the ability to persevere with life, even under the most debasing and soul-sucking of circumstances. Beauteously shot (the film won “Best Cinematography” at the Deutscher Filmpreis aka German Film Awards in 2005) yet fiercely foreboding and ‘coldly’ ominous in most of its tone, Schneeland is ultimately more of a Heimat film than an anti-Heimat film in that it demonstrates one can learn priceless lessons from the past, especially when comparing it to the petty problems of the present day. Indeed, although protagonist Elisabeth loses her husband in a car accident, her concerns seem almost frivolous when compared to the unspeakable trauma and tragedy that Ina suffered, thus giving her the ability to cope with the pain and suffering that life has dealt her. Indeed, a popular Hollywood drama like Prisoners (2013) seems like epic pseudo-emotional counterfeit celluloid gibberish when compared to the melancholic majesty of a true unsung, albeit slightly unhinged, masterpiece like Schneeland; a virtual naked expression of the Germanic geist in the deracinated postmodern age of globalization and cultural mongrelization. Although auteur Geissendörfer failed to gain the international fame and prestige that Fassbinder, Wenders, and Schlöndorff did, he is probably the only filmmaker associated with German New Cinema who has evolved as a filmmaker over the past four decades ago or so. Additionally, Schneeland also demonstrates a sense of maturity, spirituality, and unwavering passion that the contemporary works of Wenders and Schlöndorff certainly lack. The sort of Heimat film aberrant-garde auteur Marian Dora might have directed had he had the budget, religious background (Geissendörfer’s father was a Bavarian clergyman), and over four decades of experience fiddling with Heimat genre conventions, Schneeland is an audaciously unadulterated expression of the ‘white iceman’s’ soul that never wallows in cheap and petty Americanized sentimentalism, but goes straight to the gut with the sort of unfazed artistic fortitude that one would expect from an ancient Berserker running through flames. That being said, If you’re morbidly depressed this Christmas season and thinking about offing yourself, watch and bask in the gorgeously grotesque glory of Schneeland so you can come to the important realization that you’re a spineless pussy living in a soft era of emasculation and self-pity and that a early-twentieth-century farm girl has more balls than you do.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:09 PM
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