a hawksian figure, dominik graf considers himself a craftsman who merely works to realise a script, professes to care more about dialogue than images, and has made the bulk of his work for television (not necessarily out of choice). what he keeps coming back to in interviews is this idea of capturing the reality of a character, a place, a moment. the richness of life in a given scene. this longing transcends the cinema; his desire is for a livelier germany, one where people communicate and confront instead of keeping to their closed off bubbles, their loneliness and silence. in large part he blames unification for what he views as a reversion to this pitiful state after a period of relative liberation in the two decades previous, and it's clear that THE INVINCIBLES--his self-proclaimed magnum opus--is a film ignited by political anger toward the "moral bankruptcy" of the neoliberal system that asserted itself over the country in its aftermath.
in my notes for the film i wrote "it's sort of like the berliner schule if it unleashed all that wary, pent up emotion". in researching graf afterwards, i could barely find an interview that didn't reference petzold, most specifically a quote of his regarding graf's attempts to revive genre cinema being almost sisyphean, or a doomed attempt at necromancy. graf has responded by waxing at length about genre cinema being the most fertile ground for creating a new cinematic germany. their debates seem fairly affectionate, and despite their differing approaches their fundamental diagnoses and goals seem similar and characterised by a great intelligence. regardless, graf needn't make such arguments when all the evidence he needs is already there in THE INVINCIBLES, a film of irrepressible vitality.
of course, the context in which the story unfolds is anything but vital. it's deeply pessimistic, cold and corrupt; the seedy politicians hidden behind tinted glass while brutally professional, toxically macho field agents do their dirty work. not unlike the work of michael mann, when emotions enter the equation it's like a fissure appears in a glacier and blood starts to geyser. the main character, a secret service agent who's adamant he spotted his deceased former colleague during a raid, hears from his boss: "if i keep getting the impression that you're mentally fragile, there will be consequences for you karl. i wouldn't say that to another one of you, i'd just watch them go crazy and then... they're gone." it's a film about waking up to the fact that you've spent most of your life dead, or shut off from reality (it begins with a sequence that will wake up any viewer--i won't spoil it but suffice to say the premiere got a lot of walkouts), and as it awakens it unspools into a drunken thing, verging on the expressionist and dreamlike. rough sex and violence, fire, needles, helium balloons, a bright red coat, phallic art on the walls, image after image of disability which seem to imply a germany that has dis-abled itself. there's a scene where karl and friends walk away from the camera defiantly, but instead of just walking they jump and leap over bollards like something out of HUSBANDS, implying a liberated but immature, dangerous machismo. everyone talks in emotionally charged, cryptic riddles like a desplechin movie. "desire is a dog that keeps running after you", indeed.
for all that, it's still recognisably a genre movie and an extremely good one. the climax in the alpine landscape puts the majority of hollywood action films to shame with its lighting, pacing and timing, its way of relating and manipulating interiors and exteriors so that all things physical take on existential weight. it has coherent geographical mapping except when it's deliberately disorienting you, and it makes perfect sense that everything should build up to a raging inferno suspended in mid-air, desolate scenery on all sides. that's THE INVINCIBLES in the landscape of german cinema; an old lone wolf raging against the dying of the light.
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Graf had flown below my radar until quite recently, but his forthcoming Fabian: Going to the Dogs has me very excited indeed. I'll try to check out some of his earlier work as well, probably starting with this one.