Berlin 2023

Music review – dream-like myth-making that gets deep under the skin

German filmmaker Angela Schanelec's slow-going but richly rewarding tableaux tells a story of togetherness at all costs

Angela Schanelec has often been called one of the most enigmatic auteurs working today. But as much as her precise aesthetic choices may seem self-involved or even pretentious to some, I’ve always suspected a much deeper sincerity beyond words and descriptions. She’s been making films since the 90s, rich in silence and gestures – the touch of a hand, a head resting on a shoulder – that have amassed their own cosmology. Her previous, I Was at Home, But… won her the Silver Bear for Best Director in 2019, the first major festival award in 25 years of work. For a director with such singular vision, Schanelec leaves more than enough space for the viewer to dip in and out of her films’ inherent melancholy, to decide whether to stay on the surface or drown in the depths.

Hope has always been an important part of the German filmmaker’s credo, even if carefully tucked away behind layers of stylisation: long takes, wide shots, sharp cuts, and meticulous framing are also the means of expression in her latest feature Music, but the film puts forward a specific kind of musical release through silent longing. Here, as in her oeuvre as a whole, the undying desire for togetherness is what secretly pulls the strings to a rather elliptical plot loosely based on the myth of Oedipus. Fittingly, the film was shot in Greece where the main French-speaking actors communicate in fluent Greek as if testifying to how enmeshed the different facets of Europe are with regard to myths and love.

Jon (a tacit, wonder-eyed Aliocha Schneider) has never known his biological parents, his feet are inexplicably bleeding, and he unintentionally kills a man while on his way home. In prison, he meets a warden named Iro (Agathe Bonitzer, impenetrable and mesmerising), who later becomes his partner and eventually the mother of his child. There are scenes of bliss, wonder, song, and everything in-between – an unknown period of time. However, we never get the sense that something is missing or that Schanelec is editing things out: on the contrary, the skewed chronology makes up an alternative logic – one of interchangeability, fate, and chance.

While Music at times seems more dream than film, it gets deep under your skin by virtue of the feelings it locates in the images and sound. A myth does not have to be retold or restaged to be made actual – this is what Schanelec teaches us here. It may not be a simple story to summarise and it certainly is not a product of conventional aesthetic practices. However, the most important thing for an exacting piece of artwork is its inclusivity, the ways in which it invites the audience to dwell within its world. Music is slow and silent, but its depths welcome everyone who has longed for togetherness at all costs.

Music was screened as part of the Berlin Film Festival 2023. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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