By Anna Carlson
When the sun sets and the day ends, life does not end along with it. It continues on just as it did in the light, but as the True/False film Abendland’s tagline says, “Some things can be seen more clearly at night.” Abendland has two meanings, “the West” and “evening land” which makes it the perfect title for this film about Europe’s true identity at night.
Abendland has no narration (English subtitles are used when subjects do speak.) and does not follow single characters. Each scene presents a new occupation, either done by one person or many, in silence or in midst of a rave. As doctors monitor premature babies, members of the European Parliament convene to discuss the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Pope Benedict XVI addresses thousands of priests outside the Vatican, pornography is being filmed (Note: There is nudity.). As hundreds gather together and sing Robbie Williams’ Angels, tens of thousands peacefully protest the transportation of recycled nuclear waste, and “polizei” remove the protestors, who are sitting on the track to prevent the train carrying waste from continuing on its journey. This last scene is one Europeans are familiar with, as the annual protests have become a sort of ritual. American audiences, however, will not understand at first, something director Nikolaus Geyrhalter realized after The Museum of Modern Art’s International Festival of Nonfiction Film and Media in New York City. There are no words on screen to tell the audience where scenes are taking place, who subjects are or what is occurring.
The word abendland can also mean “superior culture.” It is a word thrown around when border security is discussed. Surveillance is one of many themes throughout the movie, which opens on a surveillance van in the middle of an empty field. The film later shows night guards at the Melilla border fence, an area Geyrhalter has been trying to gain access to in order to film for years. The fence is a barrier to protect against illegal immigrants and smuggling, pictures of which government official are not keen on sharing. The film also goes inside a surveillance room as those operating cameras follow single people in large crowds. The reason they pick these people to monitor is unclear.
Geyrhalter, who directed the 2005 award-winning film Our Daily Bread, takes viewers on a journey through a continent generally wary of outsiders. Some scenes move slowly due to the lack of narration, but Geyrhalter says he likes to tell true stories. He told all subjects that he just wanted to see what they do at night.
With so many different scenes, some will touch viewers and others will not. Audience members will not respond to everything they witness, but Geyrhalter’s only intention is to make viewers think. He does not want to judge; he wants to stir up discussion.
As Geyrhalter put it, True/False Film Fest attendees will witness beautiful pictures but also horrible things. This is reality.
Vox Rating: VVV
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