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fata morgana

Peter Schreiner | 2012 | O.V. German | S.T. English | Austria | 140min | B & W

Synopsis :

Austrian auteur Peter Schreiner (Bellevista, Toto) shoots film as experiment. He’s a mad scientist in the laboratory of consciousness, knowledge, being and meaning. Fata Morgana is his most divinely realized potion, comprised of a Dante-esque collection of sumptuous, digital B&W sequences that tackle existential, ontological and perceptual constructs, posed and reframed by the weathered faces of its two main protagonists (Giuliana Pachner and Christian Schmidt), who switch between revelation and trepidation. A “guide” (Awad Elkish) in the Libyan desert suggests a way in to the mirage, where “people had to find a point of reference or a foothold, and that, already, is a creative process.” It’s a loaded proposition, and one that frames the central challenge: that which does not crush our notions of daily living (the German-speaking interior), paralyze us with fear and fatigue, or clutter and distort the landscape (the North-African exterior) makes us susceptible to seduction, mystery and wonder. Schreiner foregrounds his materials, process and procedures — the camera apparatus, the recording device — and transforms the very act of breathing into a type of protected speech (like lightning in a bottle) across compressed landscapes. 140 minutes of shimmering dust and spittle. — Madeleine Molyneaux

Should one attempt to judge what Peter Schreiner's Fata Morgana intends to do in a single sentence, then the title of the first division of Martin Heidegger's Time and Being would be rather fitting: “The Interpretation of Da-sein in terms of Temporality and the Explication of time as the Transcendental Horizon of the Question of Being.” The film's three protagonists are occupied 140-minutes long with no less than the question of the meaning of existence. In other words, they are busy with a question for which the enlightened, secular Modern era has no understanding.

However, not in the sense of an ontological existential analysis, but rather, an experiment whose parameters Schreiner reveals right away in the first take. It shows the protagonists as three figures in a landscape. Awad Elkish rises to speak: “People had to find a point of reference or a foothold, and that, already, is a creative process.” The sentence is not directed at the other actors, or at himself; it passes by the camera, to an undefined nowhere, addresses a place where the director could be located, the crew, or simply the continuation of the visible landscape—the desert, whose function in the experiment is clarified by Awad's next statement: “The space is cleared out.”

In fact, the cleared-out, deserted, empty spaces of the geological and industrial deserts in Fata Morgana could be interpreted as symbols of the search for meaning. In the sense of Heidegger, they would at least identify a spatial turning away from that improper “Dasein's flight before itself,” which arises in taking care of everyday business. The interpretation is contradicted by the fact that the camera and microphone persistently emphasize the concrete, material presence of the empty spaces: Perhaps time is the transcendental horizon for the question of being, but in Peter Schreiner's film, it can only be posed in the here and now of the lived moment. (Vrääth Öhner)

What will be left of this desert? ?I detest my fears. Where shall I seek refuge? ? Thinking without feeling? Feeling without thinking?? My life is like a house on the fringe of the desert where I feel both secure and shut in. ? And there is you. Close and yet beyond reach, intimate and yet unfamiliar. ?And it is this we long for and are afraid of. We cannot do otherwise. ?It is this house Giuliana and Christian live in, within me, in my life. ? Giuliana: “... I imagine man's soul to be somehow like that: full of doors closed ...and you have to open them very carefully...”? Christian: “...you think you are controlling all ...but it is something else ...and that's what has to be found out ...and the question then is ...having gotten on the bottom of it ...will you then be happier? ...that's what I'm sceptical about...”? Their distress is my distress. This is both a feeling and a thought. ? And no love story will come out of it. And yet it may. ? Shall I start to love my fears? ?Giuliana: “...maybe this death outside ...having driven away already many people ...has chased away our emotions as well?...” (Peter Schreiner)