As of May 22, 2020 2:50 p.m.
A few weeks ago, the Grandfilm rental company started the streaming portal “Grandfilm on Demand”, which shares its earnings during the corona crisis in solidarity with independent cinemas in Germany. Now there is a German premiere via stream of a film by the director Helena Wittmann, who lives in Hamburg and at the University of Fine Arts. The film “Drift” was screened at the Venice Film Festival in 2017 in the section “Semana della Critica”. The New York Moma celebrated “Drift” in its “New Directors / New Films” series. Film critic Katja Nicodemus saw the film at its premiere in Venice.
How did the film fit into the festival back then?
Katja Nicodemus: There are films at festivals that open your eyes a little wider because you notice that something unheard of is going on or something that has never been seen is going on on the big screen. Helena Wittmann’s film “Drift” – a contemplation over the sea – is such a film. A word about the background of the film festival where I saw the film: There are always a lot of American films in competition in Venice, since the festival takes place in September and thus at the beginning of the Oscar season. So you are faced with a lot of artistically demanding mainstream cinema, with mainstream author cinema.
When I saw the film in the “Semana della Critica” series, I spontaneously thought that Venice simply missed the chance to put this young Hamburg director in the big window of his competition. Because this film, in the center of which is a wicked, impressive journey across the Atlantic, would have made the film competition shine differently in terms of film. For “Drift” you could have thrown another American film out of the competition, although it is of course great that the film was shown there at the festival. This has given him a certain amount of media attention.
What is “Drift” about?
Nicodemus: The plot is told quickly. We see two friends, two young women on a vacation at the North Sea, walks on the beach, conversations at a fish snack and then we realize that it is probably a farewell trip. Because back in Hamburg, where the two live, they talk about the fact that one, Josefina, an Argentine, is returning to her homeland. The other, Theresa, a German, flies to the Caribbean to sail from there to Europe on a sailing ship.
The film is an exploration of proximity and distance – the movement of travel. In its central part we are at sea for almost an hour. Traveling by water shows us the enormous distance between the continents. This distance is transformed back into intimacy when the two friends chat via video from their kitchens, listen to music from Hamburg to Argentina, making coffee, even though they are thousands of kilometers apart. Wittmann’s pictures of the sea simply stay in your head for a long time.
What are the sea pictures that the film shows? What makes it so “seductive”?
Nicodemus: It can rightly be said that the sea has never been shown in cinema like this film. The director completely engages with the sea with her camera. The sea is not the background. It is represented as a person with different moods, moods and conditions. This sea is always filmed out of the movement of the boat. We feel the waves under the camera, under our feet, so to speak. This sea shines in all imaginable shades of blue at sunrise or sunset, shimmering in the moonlight. In the darkness of the night it looks like it’s the greasiest oil.
Sometimes this sea is just a delicate, blue haze and sometimes a powerful roll. You can see the light reflections of the waves in the cabin. You really feel like watching this film, Herman Melvilles Reading “Moby Dick” just to capture the many sailor terms for waves, sea conditions, weather conditions over the ocean. This director really looks at the sea like never before in the cinema.
How would you classify Helena Wittmann and her film in the German film scene?
Nicodemus: Helena Wittmann studied in Hamburg at the Academy of Fine Arts, not at a classic film school. Perhaps this is also connected with the tremendous freedom of their gaze. Because her cinema debut is not about a plot, about storytelling with words, not about screenplay mechanics, but about seeing. It is about dealing with the process or the process of seeing itself.
In Hamburg she graduated from Angela Schanelec, one of the most important German directors. In Hamburg she was also Schanelec’s scientific assistant. In Germany, Schanelec belongs to the directing movement of the Berlin school, i.e. a loose group of filmmakers, which also include Christian Petzold, Maren Ade and Thomas Arslan. All of these directors think and tell more in pictures than in stories.
Their films are characterized by a precise, light aesthetic of image compositions that are remembered. I would also assign Helena Wittmann and her film “Drift”. The great German film critic Frieda Grafe once said: Cinema begins where the language ends. That also applies to Helena Wittmann.
- Experimental film
- Year of production:
- Country of production:
- Additional info:
- with Theresa George and Josefina Gill
- Helena Wittmann
- 97 min
- Without age restriction