On the film Two A.M. by Loretta Fahrenholz at Museum Fridericianum, Kassel
Portraying community can’t help also being its betrayal. No painting, nor film, nor twelve-hour recording of an extended jam session can capture the familiarity of a friend’s chatter, the harshness of exclusion, the sticking to rules for the sake of them and the excitement of not wanting to belong. But when community becomes a muddy term, a start-up catchphrase bracketing the self-legitimation of nostalgic progressives and the protectionism of cuckservatives, tools developed by filmmakers such as Frederick Wiseman simply can’t keep up, not so much because of the attention span that they require, but simply because said community might not exist anymore.
The extension of a fascist politics is first of all technological. Somewhere between rapid-fire tweeting, the necessity of repeating your political convictions to everyone like a mantra, waking up to sickening cocktails of news agency briefings or e-mailed requests to participate in some discussion or another, and hours spent reading up on the politics board of 4chan, the whole endeavor becomes compromised and as delirious as the moment itself. Stress-tests resulting in vaguely formulated claims to acceptance, tolerance and compassion by tech-giants and users alike, that you don’t really buy, throwing you once more back to yourself, to the solitude of the individual and the self-reflexivity that is so desired from it in order to exist in and be consumed by the twenty-first century.
German filmmaker Loretta Fahrenholz’s films are situated between an observation of various degrees of community and well-worn filmic conventions. Often she has made use of a sort of trickery, an optical illusion that makes a film look like it belongs to a certain genre, while actually speaking about something completely different. Fahrenholz has shot homemade porn about patchwork families (Implosion, My Throat My Air), dystopian summer blockbusters about the self-representation (and representation) of a group of black dancers (Ditch Plains) and cinema verité flicks about an artist collective that refuses to speak (Grand Openings). It appears she prefers the ruptures in image and authorship that come with the premise that a film is something to be inhabited, something to be argued out by its participants, rather than a coherent image. Still, rupture doesn’t take the form of the stylistic tools of experimental and auteur cinema, but the ones she detects in the very fabric of the subject matter itself.
Filmmaking in art reads like a tracing of relationships, an endless cameo of soon-to-be art history, it has always stood beside itself, because the center of big budgets and assigned roles is not really an option to occupy. While texts such a Steven Shaviro’s Post-Cinematic Affect are able to trace the mutation of the self-reflective silver screen to something which structural logic mimics, the nightmarish mirror maze of neoliberalism, leaving actors with many selves, those texts can’t grasp the precarity of also always being oneself.
Fittingly, the template for Fahrenholz’s new film, Two A.M., is the novel After Midnight, written by the It-girl of the German 1930s, Irmgard Keun, notably in exile from said “community.” With the faux-naïvete of a nineteen-year-old young girl, Sanna describes a ragged troupe of resistant bohemians, their inter-marital and personal conflicts and contradictions and ultimately the decline of their ideals, consumed by as they were by German fascism. But while threat, fear and Macht in Nazi Germany remained in the safe spaces of symbols and suspicions about your neighbors, they are now diluted into tools such as surveillance, both state sponsored as well as the self-policing of subjects always up for sale. Suspicion becomes a better friend, even, than your friends.
And so Fahrenholz performs a two-way split, casting real actors through agencies, who are able to deliver the performance needed for an independent film and friends from her immediate circles, making it a Millieustudie of sorts. (The all-the-way through hilarious Jim Fletcher is sort of an exception, belonging to both of the aforementioned but then, hey, he kills himself.)
Irmgard Keun’s After Midnight unfolds over the course of two days, compressing a broader mutation of consciousness into a succession of promenades, conversations in apartments, an appearance of Hitler and a party. Fahrenholz’ Two A.M., seamlessly combining in-the-moment designer fashion and the escapist allure of a fantasy blockbuster, seems to be standing somehow outside of time. Cutting between quirky esoteric scenes involving the family of the watchers—personified surveillance—and the intense social life of Sanna’s (Theodora Davies) circle, the film is less a smooth narrative and more a oneiric hologram, as weird as time tends to be these days.
It’s not the first time that Fahrenholz has worked with imagery that combines the fantastic with the banal. In her Mylar photographs (a collaboration with Rebecca Johnson), recorded with a 3D camera in psychiatric clinics and organic farms, architectural specificities are confronted with the architecture of their inhabitants’s ideologies and beliefs, resulting in images of a world where time is compressed and that is inhabited by phantoms and emptied out of emotion. Fahrenholz’s aesthetic is one of inbetween-ness, of negotiations, of compromises; her films are usually thirty to forty minutes long, somewhere between a short and a feature. Then again, what is filmmaking if not compromising temporality?
Anyways, the film and most of its characters seem to be more concerned with building the party.
Mingling, they snort cocaine off piled-up bodies drenched in colored lights, and at the height of it all, Hedi (Jim Fletcher) delivers a soliloquy on the inflation of language and blows his brains out. A haunting musical performance by Algin (played by Emily Sundblad), a singer who claims her best days are behind her, clears the room, and Sanna flees into the night, (with her boyfriend Franz, who spends the whole film looking for her).
French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, himself the author of numerous party scenes (for example in Cold Water, Irma Vep, Late August, and Early September), spoke of such a moment as one that transcends the timeline of filmmaking, as an experience for the director, the crew, the producers and the actors alike. It is only later reassembled to fit the format of a film; it otherwise stands as a singular event. But whereas his adolescent figures are oftened characterized by a lack of self-reflection, the protagonists of Two A.M. seem to have too much of it. They seem to be aware of their own image as a mediated one. Fahrenholz is able to throw a party as a film, invite a group of friends as actors, and provoke characters to transcend the horizon of the narrative—somehow turning the whole thing into a portrait of the social conditions in which narratives are formed. Early on, Algin is seen in bed masturbating. While the scene indicates her unhappy marriage to her apparently gay husband Lisko (Emile Clarke), I can’t help thinking the scene is also trying to communicate something else. It’s the season: in Verhoeven’s Elle, Isabelle Huppert masturbates to the image of her rapist’s heteronormative life in disguise, and in Assayas’s latest, Personal Shopper, Kristen Stewart pleases herself while lying in her abusive employer’s bed, wearing the clothes she just bought for her. Given that the aggression and the pleasure resulting from the tense relationship with power takes on very differentiated shapes in these films, I wonder about Two A.M. Is it here where Fahrenholz slaps me in the face, reminding me that to be dominated also holds the potential for gratification and empowerment?
Is oppression in Two A.M. dispersed over looming phantoms and technologies or in the self-reflexivity of its participating actors, a solo-player game? Far from judging the condition, Hedi doesn’t point a gun to his head because the social conventions of his clique are crumbling, but due to a lack of enjoyment of the queering of these conventions. In the cuntext of neo-reactionary fascism, language and media mutate perversely, untruthful and delirious, values of everyone in their right mind (or not?). But subjects blossom panic and angst, turning everyone into a moralizing swine. It is here that politics is the most effective and it is here that media needs to operate, with all its potential for perversity, pleasure and pain.