JOHANNA SCHWENK AUTHOR AND MEDIADRAMATURG  
 

Other Film Reviews


'ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD' BY WERNER HERZOG (2007)


A penguin splits off from the herd, turns around and heads, like a lonesome rider accompanied by a dramatic score, toward the mountains and 'certain death'.... This is the final chord of 'Encounters at the End of the World', a documentary that pointedly wasn't supposed to become 'another film about fluffy penguins'.
But it wouldn't be a Herzog movie without the mystical, almost ironic undertone and the constant scraping of the edges of what a documentary can be.

For his 22nd feature documentary, Herzog sets out to discover the end of the world, namely McMurdo Station on the South Pole. In exceptional pictures the documentary unfolds a world of wonders and beauty, of alien-like sea creatures and depicts a moon-like landscape as habitat, not only for animals but also for a bunch of likewise eccentric workers and scientists: A linguist who now works in a greenhouse, a professional diver at the end of his career, a welder with very unusual hands and many more.
While educing the most striking personal stories of those men and women, Herzog yet maintains a narrative distance which results in occasionally comic scenes like, for example, when the camera observes the clumsy attempt of the workers to master a test set-up simulating a severe snowstorm. In the end they are hopelessly entangled in what was supposed to serve as a guiding security rope. Like in other Herzog movies, this scene reveals the recurring type of Sysiphus-like characters unsuccessfully trying to conquer an intrinsically overwhelming nature. Nature itself, it seems, turns into a conscious organism, like the ice-covered surface of the South Pole, constantly moving, shifting and, every once in a while, sending off a little 'ice-berg baby' to discover the north.

One of the protagonists says: 'we are professional dreamers'. Herzog makes himself one of them by meandering from the real beauties of the ice towards a more open concept of 'truth' where a lunatic penguin takes a radical decision, and back into the mundane realms when a sinister exorcism ceremony turns into a roaring staff party in the middle of nowhere.






'BERLIN BABYLON' BY HUBERTUS SIEGERT (2001)


Under (Re)construction. Berlin in the 90's undergoes a steep change, socially and physically. The recently regained unity after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 cries for symbols and the building contractors are ready to lay the foundation stones of prestigious mega projects into the fresh wounds of history.
In the tradition of Berlin films like Walter Ruttman's 'Berlin. Symphony of a Metropolis', Hubertus Siegert's 'Berlin Babylon' is a visual trip through the city, or rather through architectural offices and construction sites. The main protagonist is the biggest construction site in Europe, the Potzdamer Platz. The camera climbs the cranes, scans vitreous facades and weighs steel, wood and cement.

Siegert gives the floor to famous architects, such as Renzo Piano, Rem Koolhaas or Axel Schultes as well as to construction workers and politicians. Snippets of conversations on site and phone calls reveal their personal aspect on the collective sensation of emptiness arising from the vast bombed and ever since fallow spaces within urban Berlin after World War II and the question whether to rebuild or build new. There's no audio commentary which lets us experience their occasionally ironic and complacent statements firsthand. Instead, the rugged score by the German band 'Einstuerzende Neubauten' – which literally translated means collapsing new buildings – makes Berlin's brachial transformation audible and counteracts the grandiloquent air of the architects in charge. Their insatiable will to materialize their own urban visions appears to clutter up the painful view back into a history of destruction and separation.