See in the dark, hear in the light

Daira Abolina

Published in the film magazine Oscar (Oskars), Riga, Latvia, July–August 1994

People who dare to stand against the accepted canon of art often are rebels by nature. Their first manifestation is their person itself. Therefore both visually and intellectually you meet a lot of colorful characters at International Film Festival Arsenals. You can’t pass Austrian film director Michael Pilz unnoticed, although he makes no show at all. Maybe that’s a way to protest, too. He remains independent in the loud and showy crowd of “independent” film makers. He does watch his own and others’ films together with audience, and he discuss them afterwards calmly and thoroughly.

His film Feldberg screened at latest edition of Arsenals, it was both prized and disavowed. Discussions follow Michael Pilz’s films, wherever they are shown.

Two years ago returning home from Arsenals Michael Pilz agreed to air Feldberg on Latvian State TV. We’re afraid whether TV audience would understand it. However this film became an event for those who tuned in that evening.

Now we know that the seed of Arsenals has a lot of growth potential.

The independent Austrian film director Michael Pilz shall be in Riga again this autumn.

Phone at our department in TV rung the whole day. And we spoke of philosophy, politics and unhappy love.

She is 53 years old, and she confessed that yesterday was horrible. In two hours she lived re-lived her whole life. She was happy and unhappy at the same time; she asked not show this film ever again.

Psychologist had told her she needs to see this film in order to understand how blind people perceive this world.

Man’s voice was not friendly and a bit brusque. He was very “green”. He reasoned that in yesterday’s ecological film civilization has not extinguished nature yet.

A lady tried to excuse herself that her old, no–worth TV is to blame. It doesn’t show the picture. She didn’t see the film, she listened to it. Who would have thought that a film can come alive and be seen in one’s imagination, she said. These sounds calmed and exited me at the same time. It was alluring and mysterious life that the black screen was hiding. And, if there is a film I want to see that I’ve already become acquainted by sound, then it is Michael Pilz’s film.

And then one day this lady all by her own with in a room video projector watched the film. I don’t know whether it supplemented or ruined the previous experience.

All the above mentioned people were watching Latvian State TV, they were watching one and the same film by Michael Pilz, but saw different stories.

Indeed one can be blind and watch Feldberg, but one who has eyesight will not “see” it. There are no chain of events in the film, there is no text delivered in words, place and time is of no importance. He and she in the film are A MAN and A WOMEN. Michael Pilz has taken away all that would have some kind of explanatory meaning. Characters have neither name, nor past or age, they even don’t have voice. Sounds of rustling leaves, knocking doors, whizzing branches, breaking glass, echoing steps and  rain falling is the only “text” in this film. Every thing has its own inner life — doesn’t matter, if we call it a human being or blade of grass. Because it all together makes the world feel complete. There are no things that are more important than other.

For a period of time Michael Pilz worked with his actors using Eastern philosophy’s Taiji method. It helped to introduce the film to its slow and balanced rhythm on one hand and inner tension on the other hand. If audience accepts director’s method of narration, then they’ll become allied.

Michael Pilz searched for a united formula of world order; he found it in the ancient Chinese philosophy that is based on mutually flowing “yin” and “yang” structure. Night and day, cold and warmth, momentum and energy change giving rhythm to all things. One is not without the other. All is everlasting and momentarily at the same time.

Landscapes in Michael Pilz’s film have a presence of their own, even, if there is no one present in the picture. There are no contrasts made. Women’s portrait is as important as wind blowing in trees. Each and everything complements the whole.

Road is common ingredient in works influenced by Chinese philosophy. Road – physically, spiritually, philosophically. Michael Pilz’s Man and Women have eternal road towards each other. You can’t tell, if it shall unite or separate. Every meeting is beginning of a separation. And vice versa. The outwardly simple films hide a mystery within.

Often it’s difficult to explain the visual rebuses offered by the director. It is not necessary though. Michael Pilz leaves boundaries of real and imaginary open both for audience and heroes. Two lonely people did or didn’t meet, or maybe it was just the longing to meet. Sartre reckoned it is our consciousness which separates real and imaginary. Why not vice versa? Why we call a mind ill, when it does not assent to the belief of objective existence of the surrounding world. That is grace of films by Michael Pilz — every notion can be interpreted expressively.

In his documentary 80cm 5t portraying a sculptor the director hides the Sisyphus’ myth. It is a chance to speak about the basic ideas of human existence. The director wanders the world together with the protagonist in the search for answers. The sculptor is looking for a stone for his new work. Film provides almost no verbal information or facts about the artist or his work. Director is not interested in particulars of sculptor’s profession, instruments or quality of stone. He is not interested in his past or future. He wishes to comprehend much more – meaning of creative work. Work of creation is protest against reality, that’s what Camus would have said. That is road to the world of imaginary. The protagonist of 80cm 5t is capable of walking that road; therefore the film could come into being. The director allows to take a look into the rhythm of everyday events, but they obtain a special significance. People talk of sadness and stone’s soul. Artist has a destiny to carry his stone like his cross, that is his wholly martyrdom. In accordance with Camus’ theory man has to go through all stages of mankind’s coming of age (Sisyphus, Prometheus). He has to develop his attitude towards world, society and his neighbor during that time. This process molds human being and his view of the world. In the process of transition, when artist makes statue out of a stone, they both change – the man and the stone. Work of art reveals beauty of the stone, but statue is a mirror image of its maker. Michael Pilz shows it allowing the world and its author to mirror in the surface of the polished stone.

Artist finds his stone – it is beyond comparison larger than the artist’s figure. Fight for creation between the man and the stone still lay ahead. It means that in the moment of eternity they shall be united. Only that will happen in another film.

For the independent Austrian filmmaker, who has made 30 films in 30 years, the visual and philosophical levels are of equal importance. Sometimes his characters seem to be deceivingly simple, even schematic. It is because Michael Pilz uses the very basic notions that are fundamental for connections of any more complicated kind. Whatever philosophical thoughts we entertain these notions are self evident. Fire — Water, Earth — Sky, Man — Women, Love — Hate, Life — Death: these are basic things we can choose to explain differently or not to explain at all.

This year’s Arsenals shall feature The Park of Memories (Parco della Rimembrance) – one of most laconic and at the same time one of the most meaningful films. A 14 minute long essay about mankind between day and night.

Film is made of one static shot. Place of action – a park in Venice, although the actuality of this has no meaning. Something else is important – we feel (not only see), that the sun has set. It is getting dark. A phone both against reddish sky. A woman dials a number. People wonder around the park. They enjoy moments before night fall. Camera observes the end of the day as if from aside. Different noises – people’s voices, dogs barking, bells ringing – are hard to discern. These are voices of the evening. There is no protagonist in the film. People walk across the world locked onto the screen, carrying in a trace of another life and taking it with them in a moment. The eye can’t distinguish the meaning of what is going on, but viewer may try to sense the mysterious, almost ritualistic expressions of strangers. And then… darkness falls. One third of the film allows enjoying this status on a black screen, only by means of sound. While we watched hundreds of details dissipated our attention. Unconsciously the eye tries to catch every detail, every silhouette. Now in the dark, among the sounds one has to look for another, deeper meaning. It seems that only now we understand what it is we’re told about. Almost automatically we start to remember events we saw in the picture moments ago. We understand enchantment of the picture. Darkness annihilates the unnecessary, it makes noises sound sharper, and it helps to perceive the essence.

Michael Pilz invites to look deeper and listen more attentively. It is his offer how to explore world around us. The director is convinced that art is capable of making the world more transparent.

The TV spectator who listened only to Feldberg’s soundtrack naturally didn’t know that the director examines acuteness of audience’s perception in The Park of Memories exactly the same way – by switching off the picture. Michael Pilz has multi-dimensional sense of the world and he’s capable to show it on the screen. Spectator for him is co-creator of the film. Michael Pilz allows him to behold, what one is capable of and one wishes to sense.

Translation from Latvian into English by Martins Slisans.
© Daira Abolina