The questionary of Michael Pilz

Daira Abolina

pre-diploma work before finishing Film High School (VGIK) in Moscow, spring of 1993, Riga, Latvia

White on black. The light in the darkness. The silence in the noise. The world is created like this in Michael Pilz‘s film Feldberg, which was screened in Riga during the last Arsenal (1992). But it would not be precise to call the film the product of Pilz’s creative work. He uses the language of cinematography for building and bringing to the people his philosophical model of how he feels about the world.

All 14 films by Michael Pilz (in formal terms, we can classify some of them as documentaries and other ones as feature films) are in point of fact philosophical and psychological sketches. Whether the main character is an actor or documentary existing person, is of no importance at all. Michael Pilz does not open stories with realistic events.

Action, people, gestures, tears, noises – these are all parts of the external rhythm of life and we do not have less or more important details. It is almost impossible to tell the story of Feldberg. The spectators themselves are allowed to interpret what is going on and also to build the story in their imagination. Pilz proposes the system of signs in various dimensions. He does not like the didactic way of telling which we can often see in so-called “films of action“. How to build the story of action and how to join separate elements of visuality or meaning – is the problem of the spectators. Everything depends on the emotional and intellectual level of the spectator. On the dark screen appear clear white dots, which take the shape of letters. They fill the screen chaotically and then change into words, terms which at the end bring the information. These are only the titles of the film.

In the centre of the film there are two people – a man and a woman. Pilz does not give names to his heroes, nor their past, not even their ages and voices. He takes away all these things which would be able to help us understand. During two hours the heroes are not allowed to say a word. Nature is speaking instead of them – knocking at the door, the echo of footsteps, autumn grass, weeping rain. The man is not the main hero of the film although it is his portrait that we can watch throughout the film. The actors do not play any roles, they just exist on the screen. Everything in the film lives its own inner life and there is no difference between a man or a blade of grass. And only together they form the total scene of the world.

The camera accidentally comes across the silhouette of the man. We do not know how long he is staying here – for a moment or for eternity. There is a quietness in his gestures and slow movements, only in his lips and eyes we can feel an inner intensity. Maybe it is a hint about the relations hip to the past, maybe – to the future. But the path on which the hero will step after a moment is not of an accidental nature, but one of the codes for the solution of the film.

Michael Pilz worked with his actors with the method of Tai Chi for a while, so the film is also built like the model of this oriental attitude to the world. That‘s why there is a slow balanced rhythm on the one hand and inner excitement on the other hand. When the spectator agrees to take up the rhythm which is proposed by the director and his rules of the game, he starts to feel good and enjoy himself.

The faces of both the man and the woman appear on the screen as a confirmation of the spectator’s expectations. Michael Pilz searched for one underlying principle. And he found it in the ancient Chinese, who discovered the principle of interaction – Yin and Yang, the structure which regulates the life of the universe. The image of the woman is only a part of the universal rhythm. That’s why the director makes the concrete image of the woman indefinite. You may assume that she is young or that she is old. You can see in her eyes at the same time hope, expectations, indifference and isolation. Pilz uses Tai Chi in the sense of the simultaneous beginning of two opposite phenomena (as the philosopher Lao-tzu said). The road which is between man and woman is attractive and rectractive at the same time. One does not exist without the other. Everything is close and isolated, eternal and instantancous at the same time. You must feel the whole from a part and the uninterrupted stream from the interrupted moment. The two are one.

The landscape keeps the feeling of presence of a man even if he is not there. But in the landscape there does not exist the confrontation between a man and nature. The portrait of the woman is of the same importance as the wind and the trees. The landscape does not give the illustration and does not comment on the human passion. Nature is as alive and complicated as the two people continue to be for each other.

The first meeting of the man and the woman is happening more in our imagination than in reality. The man is lonely, the woman is lonely. They are looking at us or, maybe, at each other. Look straight into the camera, straight into the eyes. But this look is not concrete, it is blind. It seems as if it met a wall in its way and returned to the deepness of the soul. Slow, tender rain falls on the lonely man. The earth and the heaven are joining each other. The rain (Yin – water and the beginning of the woman) and the man (Yang) are also joining each other. The rain becomes stronger and its noise is louder than any other noises. This is the moment of harmonious unity.

The physical contact between man and woman is nervous and instinctive. He declares his physical superiority, she obeys. That’s the rule of nature. The aim of the game is to conquer. But there are things not for the eyes of strangers and Pilz leaves the man and the woman together and does not show what happens next.

The pulse of the universe is still beating. Day is followed by night. And the night noises take away the day‘s tension.

The night makes nature pause in the action. And it is not important, whether the morning has come or the moment which lasts a hundred years has happened between sunset and sunrise. These are other people. The opposite points have come close. They still keep their spiritual autonomy, but already exist near each other. Black and white have changed into the various-coloured harmony of human relations. And these eyes which look at us (so different, lonely and contradictory) are maybe the only concrete look from the screen to the auditorium. Only one time in the film the woman allows the man to conquer her, but it is a kind of renaissance. And in spite of the fact that the man won the struggle, he is not the conqueror or winner.

Tai Chi includes opposite pairs – dark and light, action and peace, Yin and Yang: the action itself, the opposite of the peace, starting with peace and returning to peace. All develops in one way and then back.

Already at the beginning, in the way between man and woman, Pilz proposes their logical repulsion. In the Holy Book of Teresa of Avila we can read: “O God, you know that we do not understand ourselves, we do not know our desires and all the time go away from those whom we love and for whom we are longing“.

The light and the darkness usually force each other out.

The sigh of the woman is in contrast with the silence of the house, but the shaft of light leaves its shape in the dark house. In the silence of the landscape we hear the heavy steps of the man. But the stone building which he made on the shore of the lake will not be the basis for a family house, it is just a heap of stones. By this time the hand of the woman is indifferently playing with the piece of glass. Something has been broken …

In Pilz’s film there is external simplicity and the mystery of reality. It is not always easy to translate the visual frames. But you do not need to do it. Pilz leaves open the borders between imagination and reality not only for the spectators but also for the heroes inside the film. Was the stone building real, was the glass broken, did two people meet amidst a nature of ancient beauty or did it only happen in their expectations? There exist the variations …

Before Pilz the existence of the real world (being in time and space) and the unreal one (without time and space) was recognized by Jean-Paul Sartre and not only by him. Sartre considers that only the position of consciousness determines the world of imagination as the real universe. Probably this process is also two-sided. Our consciousness can not recognize the real world as existing objectively. The Austrian filmmaker Michael Pilz interprets all concepts and positions in a multisemantic way and this is the charm and the fascination of his film.

Both the visual and the philosophical level of cinematography are important for Pilz. Sometimes we get a false feeling that the system of visuality is very simple and even didactic in this film.

The director shows the hands of the woman and how she washes her hair, the face of the man under the open air near the fire. The shapes of the fire that play upon the face of the hero. The director realizes the passive attempt to join the man and woman beginning one more time. We see the back of the woman looking out of the window at the man by the fire. The rabbit is being roasted over the fire as if it were the body of a naked woman. Or maybe it is once again the play of imaginations? But Pilz likes to make the spectators guess. He allows them to see it for a long time (at some moments only a short time) in order to understand what is going on. He makes the spectator become doubtful – do you really see what you see at this moment? He does not give the advice to trust only one‘s eyes, because we often only pretend that we understand what is in this film and do not feel it with our emotions and senses. Pilz invites the spectator to become the co-author of the film.

In one of the interviews the director said: “In my childhood a good movie had to be a shock and make the spectators sit in their seats without movement and watch the story and action. But I myself am able to decide what makes me feel and what not. Film does not need to be aggressive and make one change one‘s mind. I want my spectators to create together with me and put into this process as much emotion as they like to“.

Pilz always leaves the frame unfinished. He likes to play with the fractures and space. All can be understood by comparing. There are film directors who build little ships and organize big sea battles in a glass of water and then they are proud if the spectators see in this the waves of the ocean. Michael Pilz tries to help the spectators understand themselves – how they feel the world. That’s why sometimes in this film the mountain looks like small stones and small stones look like great mountains. Pilz tests the perception of the spectators. That’s why he leaves us for a long time together with nature and then remakes the position: the appearance of a human being in nature changes everything. The whole turns out to be a part of another whole. Pilz allows the spectators to finish this drawing.

I would like to say that in fact the film by Pilz is a collage of autonomous episodes lasting for several minutes. But they are edited in a calculated order. And only the whole film is the reflection of the universe of the emotions.

Pilz does not hide the editing of the film, on the contrary, sometimes even demonstrates it. One after another he shows three seemingly very similar episodes, but they are very different. These are three attempts to make contact between human beings. Not in a physical, but in a mental sense. People are sitting together, but they are so far from each other. He has something to say to her, but she does not want to listen. The man extends his hand but as a response receives only indifference (maybe deserved). Then they exchange roles. The woman is ready for tenderness, the man refuses her. Three attempts to perceive another one as oneself and three failures. Why? The film does not answer this question. But it is the only question in Feldberg. This film is a meditation about our existence.

Like the film itself the heroes emerge from the imagination and return to the darkness of the universe. The pulse of life continues outside of the film and says by its peace – everything goes away, everything returns. Feldberg is an encounter with emotions, consciousness and subconsciousness. Two people wander around with the hope of meeting each other, with the hope of making contact with themselves and another person and nature. But it is decided that they must leave …

Who are these people? Lovers at a bad moment in their relationship? Or maybe strangers who have met for the first time? Maybe people who will not meet each other? Who are we in this world and will we meet each other?

The charm of Pilz’s film is not only visual but also its philosophical motive. Nothing is so simple and nothing is so complicated as we are told. The film makes the spectators listen and the listeners see. It makes us think about basic things in life, about inner forces and inner actions. Using only basic concepts – water, earth, people, fire, the universe – Pilz makes us forget for the moment about everyday little things.

Will this world which we could build during this film be real or unreal? It depends on how much we allow ourselves to use our emotions in the labyrinth of the film. In any case this film guarantees each of us some gains and some losses. Everybody will receive what he has deserved.

© Daira Abolina