Untitled was meant to be an experimental journey for the Austrian director Michael Glawogger.
Together with cinematographer Attila Boa, Glawogger had set out for a cinematic venture that was supposed to take him around the word in one year. There was to be no plot, no interviews – it was supposed to be a documentary about nothing. Instead, travelling and motion was to be at the core of this essayistic film. But the project ended in an unforeseen manner when the filmmaker died of malaria only four months into his travels.
Since he never returned from it, it was up to his editor Monika Willi to finish the trip for him. Willi has worked on many previous documentaries and feature films with Glawogger. She is furthermore known and has been awarded for her regular collaboration with Michael Haneke.
Having footage from the Balkans, Italy and North to West Africa, Monika Willi took it upon herself to finish the film by taking her own journey through the material. The resulting film is an exceptional and emotional exploration reminiscent of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil with its travel images and a narrating voice. Untitled’s opening scene of a field is the only glimpse of the cameraman and (probably) the director. One cleans the camera lens while the other runs shouting into the field. A massive flock of birds takes to their wing and the camera follows their flight. We hear the voice over of Glawogger for the only time, as he proclaims that the most wonderful film is the one that never comes to a standstill.
From here Willi sets out on her quest using the observational footage from Glawogger's travels – spectacular sights as simple as watching the work of a man cut down a tree in the Balkans or diamond miners in Africa, animals being transported in various countries, sports events such as wrestling, or handicapped soccer in Africa. Contemplative images from the East and Central Europe are juxtaposed with the colourful and vivid portrait of Africa. Glawogger has visited quite a few of those (or similar) places in his previous observational films on social issues such as Whores' Glory (2011) – about prostitution in Mexico, Thailand and Bangladesh –, or Megacities (1998), commenting on the state the world is in.
As in his earlier work, the beautifully composed images in Untitled achieve intimacy with their protagonists without any interviews or dialogue. Glawogger, usually shooting his documentaries on 35mm, turns now to digital – a choice that must have given him the freedom to not prepare the shoot in detail and be open to a more “wasteful” use of footage allowing him to catch what he was looking for: movement. Only little footage shot on Super 8 pays homage to his usual style of using film.
Willi connects these images in her editing by affinity and movements: switching one moving vehicle for another; cutting from fighting goats to a scuffle between children. The scenes have no dialogue but Willi chooses to let a narrator read out text passages by Glawogger instead, that he wrote during his trip for travel blogs. She aligns them with the images that – even when seemingly disparate at the beginning – form a relation with the text. Sometimes it even feels like Glawogger's account of the actual scene, and at other times the connection might be just a common element. The astounding experimental soundscape by Wolfgang Mitterer is another standout. Mitterer merely seems to amplify the on-screen sound for his swift but loud and energetic compositions. Almost to the rhythm of a heartbeat.
Unmistakably, the death of the filmmaker frequently resurfaces in this edit, found in Glawogger's own narrated words about farewells and death, for example. Death is inherent to Untitled with dispersed images like a butchered goat in North Africa, dead animals rotting along the roadside in the desert, or father and son visiting the family grave in the Balkans. Images shot by Glawogger, and assembled by Monika Willi after his death.
It is impossible not to be moved by this extraordinary trip of a late director, and the remarkable attempt of the editor to take it again. Glawogger's idea of a film that does not stand still is depicted and felt in the images of this film, always in motion. The editor provides circular structure, closing with the opening images on the field of birds, letting Glawogger return to the starting point of the journey which he did not finish. The film becomes a loop that is ready to begin again with the recurring opening scene. Willi has carefully selected and arranged for us the circular journey of life and death.
C. Photo Credit: Untitled (2017)
"Untitled" by Michael Glawogger and Monika Willi (AT, DE)
KVIFF 2017 - Karlovy Vary International Film Festival - Horizons
Name: Sabine Kues