AESTHETIC DISTANCIATION OR THE ABSURDITY OF MEMORY? UNDERSTANDING THE EPOCH OF GERMAN NEW WAVE FILM
In Alexander Kluge’s beautiful (yet boggling) film, “Yesterday Girl” (1966), understanding the schematics of German New Wave film is a determinant in unraveling post-war sentiment: such as the idea of adapting to a new life in contemporary Germany through the sublimity of a (seemingly) care-free narrative. One of which, unravels as more and more “complex” through the difficulty of personal situation, and its shifting in different contexts– this is described through underscored (yet crucial) metaphors while traveling within cinematic space, and diversified through a vague sense of sequentiality in the protagonist’s mind.
Although not explicitly cited as the context of adaptation, in Germany, Anita G. (or the main heroine of the film) maneuvers through an (initially) ordinary reality, balances her own imagination between past and present (and the bleakness around her), and deals with a universal strife characteristic to what post-war youth culture may have had to compensate with in this phase of Germany under restoration: the re-positioning of love, money, work, and actualizing a new “worth” in society that operates in favour of a new “theatre within a theatre”– the theatre of imbalanced bureaucracy when scrutinised under law, which results in a series of marginalised education-histories of young and adapting, post-war women.
What fascinated me throughout the film is the placement of a character within space– and how the character is constantly maneuvering through that space– boggling with both the reflection of the memory and perhaps even, a renewal of sanity in such a mundane life. For instance, as the beginning of the film focuses on the notion of hands– such as the hands performing in space, performing the everyday, and its function in the interaction with ordinary objects, in this way, the interactions and movement of different characters’ hands in space become a series of transactions. From a portrait of the lawyer’s hands flipping pages, to the focus of Anita’s hands on the oath, to the immediacy of the next scene of her (almost choreographically) moving through the kitchen and eating, to, finally, another cut where women are anxiously scrubbing floors, continuity functions in the film by highlighting the specific source that is initally referenced, yet is distanciated through the absurdity and “diplomacy” of an interesting theme that occurs (which in this case, is human-hand-relations in different contexts).
Yet, one may come to ask that, through such an absurdity and sequence of disjunction, how do we justify the passing of time in this film? And what are the implications of private and public space under the law within this passage of time and memory?
Repeatedly, the scenes of “talking heads” (portraits) of characters would continuously list information (almost to the extent that conversation becomes jibberish); however, why does the director place the audience in such a position, and what is the purpose of listening to these lists of such structured fields of information?
I came to realise that these talking heads themselves are symbolic of a mundane passing of time– for example, for no particular reason, the lecture of a physics professor is focused on for five long minutes, while the scene of the judiciary is almost fifteen minutes long in itself– of him, reciting the structure of law enforcement when it came to Anita’s personal case.
Like Anita, the viewer is suddenly tested in both attention span and sensitivity towards interrogation in a constantly changing environment. Perhaps the “talking heads” become a metaphor for the passing of time in Anita’s life– the ritual, the words which pass by her without meaning, and the way her mind starts to drift in both memory and shift in purpose, which becomes a welcomed case for the viewer as well. Interestingly enough, towards the end of the film, the notion of “mindless,” informational lists suddenly reverse in importance (and are no longer mindless)– for example, as a nurse lists to Anita what she can and cannot have within the hospital (as a pregnant woman), we are forced to scrutinise these objects as metaphors of helplessness, displacement, and depletion as the climax of her situational circumstances in the film.
Furthermore, the interaction between soundscape and semantics are also fascinating throughout the film. For example, what do sudden drawbacks of silence impose upon us– and what type of relationship does silence impose on these constructed temporalities? And in contrast– what are the implications of scenes where orchestrated music dictates quickened, mass-movement, or maneuvering through a “random” and distant society, that of which Anita constantly experiences? Even then, to pile upon this confusion, interjections of the still image are also incorporated (with or without the sounds of super-imposed concertos), and the viewer is left with ambiguity to decide whether these images are flashbacks or relevant references to Anita’s shift in thought process. Yet, is music altering the moving image, or elevating it as a new relationship in the German New Wave?
For some reason, like the focus on hands, I also paid attention to the role of “hair” throughout the film– from being organic and inorganic, and from when Anita brushes her hair in its neatness (crisply in macro-focus) until the phase it is depleted (and also in completely out-of-focus) when she makes love. Oddly enough, when Anita makes love in her apartment, the only cue of “love-making” is, actually, through the movement of hair— the only focus in the visual field is her single head, which moves in unison with the fibers, or “hair”of the blanket.
With this being said, what is the relationship between activity and intimacy and its positioning within the everyday, especially in Anita’s situation? It seems as if Kluge has both a beautiful and bizarre fascination in metaphorizing these elements through underscored cues in the environment.
One of my favourite scenes in the film is when Anita is alone and walks over a bridge after she discovers she is pregnant. As she rushes to her next destination, her body almost perfectly, and in sync with industrial cranes, passes through them as one, and then her body mimics the positioning of cranes in a restoration-referencing context as she exits her own super-imposition– it is as if the development of the woman and the development of the city are directly in unison with one another throughout the film.