Subtitle: Portrait of My Father
Direction and screenplay: Rosa Hannah Ziegler
Camera: Michel Unger
Editing: Rosa Hannah Ziegler, Michel Unger
Advisor: Prof. Dietrich Leder
It is as if time is frozen. Although the day is well underway, the filmmaker’s father still lies in bed. He turns over to one side, rolls a cigarette and smokes. Through the windowpane flickering sunlight passes into the room, creating a shadow play of leaves dancing on the walls. Life edges inward while time stands still, coagulated. We hear the muffled sounds of traffic and construction, the echoes of the activities of the day. Another cigarette, then the man pulls himself together and manages to get up, cross the room, and draw back the dark curtains hanging before a set of tall windows.
The position of the camera shifts outside, showing the man dressed only in a robe behind a window, looking out at nature’s summery display as if it were a provocation. We hear a chorus of birdsong, the rustling of the trees—the dark world behind the glass seems far away.
Another cigarette. The repetition of smoking gives structure to the day and breaks down the nebulous hours into perceptible units of time. Only the accumulation of cigarette butts in the ashtray testifies to time’s linear progression.
The scene abruptly changes: the protagonist is wandering in a now hazy landscape, cloaked in fog. It is as if the smoke from the room has engulfed the world and thus conquered the means of separation: inner world and exterior space converge as the cigarette smoke dissolves into the soupy air.
We return to the twilight of the room. The man, fatigued, his gaze so tired that it no longer fixes on anything. Only once do the heavy eyelids drooping over his eyes fly open to allow a picture to enter: the framed photograph of the filmmaker on the wall. A vacation snapshot; the glass before it reflects the face of the father, smoking, while the daughter, standing behind the camera, watches him.
It is a moment in which the axis of the gaze interweaves with the axis of time, crossing each other in a multilayered construct of connections. The present-day daughter, gazing through the viewfinder of the camera, films her aging father, mirrored in the long-ago gaze of her photograph; in this way reflecting past, present, and future in a simultaneous juxtaposition.
Yet, this moment also falls out of focus, and the protagonist loses himself anew in his lethargy; again gazing vacantly out the window, closing the curtains, getting back into bed, smoking.
Text — Daniel Burkhardt
More on the films by Rosa Hannah Ziegler:
"Du warst mein Leben"