Ahorn | Wednesday, der 22. February 2017
By Andrew Horn
Artistic block is a terrible thing. I’ve experienced it and I know others who have, though maybe a lot of people don’t like to admit to it. I know I don’t. Heinz Emigholz in his film “Streetscapes [Dialogue]” (Germany 2015-2017) not only admits it but offers a look at the process of working through it.
The film plays out as an ongoing dialogue presented as if it were a series of sessions between therapist and patient. The text comes from actual discussions between Emigholz and Zohar Rubenstein, a psychologist specializing in trauma, but organized into a script form and spoken by actors – John Erdman as “the patient” and Jonathan Perel as “the therapist”. Their meetings run from a Sunday to a Thursday with two additional ones several weeks afterwards.
In the course of these discussions the patient – or let’s call him the filmmaker since that’s what is really at issue here – talks about his early life growing up in post-war Germany, “We were the first generation who experienced that the ruins of a city could be rebuilt in our lifetime,” and his “escape to NY” in his early 20s, that he said saved his life. He jumps back and forth between past and present, revealing things about himself as well as his anxieties about a new set of films he is making – this one actually being part of it – and in particular an upcoming shoot in Israel.
What I found interesting, is that there are actually two dialogues going on here. First of course is the dialogue between the two men, but then there is also a dialogue between the words and images. The location of the sessions reveals itself to be constantly shifting in space. The two characters can be sitting on a terrace, walking through buildings, in an abandoned factory, or framed against a brick tower, a pile of sand, a row of giant truck tires, or any number of other visual motifs, sometimes with the pair not even visible in the shot at all. And this all happens from cut to cut with their back and forth dialogue running as a constant throughout as if it would have been a static scene, but with the ever changing architecture forming a parallel thread both to the text, and the train-of-thought flow of the discussion.
The filmmaker runs through all sorts of memories and ideas, life and work, doubts and nightmares, breakdowns and breakthroughs, and the problem of talking about things so you don’t have to do them. A conversation, one of them says, about life and death and the absurdity of both. Sometimes the talk gets overly intellectual, sometimes technical and sometimes very human and identifiable. And whenever it gets too much, there’s always the architecture going on around them.
I don’t think I’m spoiling the plot to say that finally his movie gets made and the sessions come to an end. Like any therapy it’s all about the process. The filmmaker says he’s interested in remembrance and how people become what they are, and in that sense it seems that as the dialogue unfolds, you’re seeing not only the development of the filmmaker but also the workings of the movie itself as it comes to life.
Addendum – this film is chapter 3 in a series of four films Heinz Emigholz is presenting at the Berlinale this year, under the title “Streetscapes”. Interestingly, the film shoot in Israel talked about in this movie is actually the film “Bickels [Socialism]” which is chapter 2 in the series. The architectural locations we see here are in Uruguay, which is also the location for chapter 4 in the series, “Dieste [Uruguay]”.