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The Importance of Frustration: Music by Angela Schanelec

Par Mike Hoolboom

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Panorama-cinéma is back at TIFF after a four-year absence! Our columnist Mike Hoolboom, one of the most famous and lovely experimental filmmakers in the country, will share his thoughts about some films from the Festival lineup. Don't miss this chance to attend the event by proxy, but mostly to bask in Mike's unique and rousing verve, which will undoubtedly manage to fill your mind with images both inspiring and horrendous, as if you were attending the crowded Lightbox screenings in person.

 Olivier Thibodeau, editor Festivals section

:: Music (Angela Schanelec, 2023) [Dart Film & Video / Faktura Film / et al.]

If you already know what cinema is, don’t go see Music (2023) by Angela Schanelec. It arrives wrapped in a narrative disguise. Characters are draped in careful lighting, but the links between them are an ongoing mystery. Ravishing and severe, a series of exquisite frames offer us time to ponder the lost art of looking. Beyond its mythological frame (of Oedipus, apparently), its central task is to restore time, to grant its viewers a way to reframe time, rescue it from the fragmentation bomb of digital life.

One of the most cherished traits in Zen is “beginner’s mind.” As Suzuki often told his young American charges in the 60s: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; but in the expert’s there are few.” What does it mean to see a movie where every frame is deeply informed by an intersection of stories whose causes and consequences the viewer has no way of plugging into? Well, unless you read magazines like this one. The inevitable frustration might lead viewers to change the channel or reinvent the idea of what cinema is for.

“The moment there is a feeling of frustration it’s got to be filled with something. It’s a bit like the mother who overfeeds her child. She does that to stop the child from having appetite, because the appetite is so frightening. Now it seems to me there’s an attempt to foreclose appetite—and that means foreclose people’s capacity to think about what is really missing in their lives, what they might want, and what they might do about getting it.” Adam Phillips [1] 

After long days stuffed with too many demands, even my fringe movie-loving friends reach for images that do all the lifting for them, that require a minimum of effort to decode. This movie made me wonder what pornography would look like if it was undirected by Angela Schanelec. Where every scene would arrive as a stunningly beautiful and utterly mysterious phantom. What new possibilities for our erotic life are waiting to be uncovered?

The opening shot is a painting in motion, glimpsing a forbidding landscape of rock and moss as cloud cover slowly settles over it. This is a covering that reveals. Or, as Oscar Wilde once opined: Give someone a mask, and they’ll tell you the truth. Every landscape appears like this one, as a setting of life and death, a timeless compression born from the earth’s crust, casually indifferent to the merely human. Imagine a movie directed by a tree. How might humans appear under its steadfast gaze?

Again and again we are returned to the view of people looking. The main action, the thing itself, often appears offscreen. Instead, we are privy to its witness. The inner sanctum we are allowed to glimpse is not what they are seeing, but the act of seeing itself. The image of the witness is central to every sequence and understanding.

Every incidental sound echoes like a gunshot. The opening of a door, tires over gravel, a paper being folded, even the tapping of a cigarette. These sounds—for movies with enough capital—are usually painstakingly recorded, and then buried in fathomless layers of sound way down in the mix. Not here. The whole world is speaking, groaning, rubbing and sparking, an integral part of the masterful spell this movie casts.

 [Dart Film & Video / Faktura Film / et al.]

I was amused to see a title announce the award this movie received for “Best Script” from the Berlinale. I think the first word isn’t uttered until we’re five minutes into the film. Many wordless passages follow. This is a movie driven by wind and crickets, the solidarity of sand, or the mechanical rhythms of a house.

A woman falls on a mountain, dropping the body of her adult child, wailing in grief. A child is rescued from a house made of stone heaped on stone. Cars slowly part on a road. The keynote remains: it all happens by accident. And why not? The most important things in my life—my best friend, my decision to make films—it all comes by accident. A car turns a corner too quickly and loses a wheel, forcing a cadre of student pals to stop.

Jon has bloodied ankles, he must be the abandoned child in the earlier scene, now a teenager. He lingers behind to bandage his wounds and is met by strangers. One of them approaches for a slow motion kiss until Jon pushes back too hard. The teenager topples over, hits his head on a rock, and dies. Jon gives himself up to the police. The movie jumps forward in time, sometimes by centuries, sometimes by a day or a few years.

Iro is a prison guard who falls in love with him. When he gets out, they start a family together and live with his parents in a bucolic village. Seven years pass and they have three kids. She calls Abraham and his partner Yiota, and they tell her about their son Lucien, a young man who died seven years ago. This is the man killed by her husband. Possessed by grief and horror, she goes to the beach to become one of the rocks, and then later, while standing on a ledge, a small salamander approaches her foot. She falls or jumps to her death.

The funeral departure from the family’s house is another masterclass in choreography, emotion and spellbinding timing. It also signals, in some sense, the end, though the movie is far from over. There is another act to come, and it is filled with music. I think the director is reminding us that we are all living after the end—of our loved ones, our parents, our cherished hopes and ideals. And that the real difficulty lies in how we might make music of that place haunted by the ghosts of who we might have become. Of the people we loved most of all.


[1] Robert Rippberger, Tyler Krupp and Rachel Stuart, “Adam Phillips Interviewed in London, October 6, 2010”, New York Times (Nov. 7, 2011),






Mike Hoolboom began making movies in 1980. Making as practice, a daily application. Ongoing remixology. Since 2000 there has been a steady drip of found footage bio docs. The animating question of community: how can I help you? Interviews with media artists for 3 decades. Monographs and books, written, edited, co-edited. Local ecologies. Volunteerism. Opening the door.

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Article publié le 19 septembre 2023.


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