Language and images | The inner, and the outer channelled towards the inner | To be sorted within | Washed cooked and served | Channelled towards the outer | In the beginning was the word | Heard | Spoken | Language and thought | The reading of images | The writing of images | Film.



The essence of being as a reactor for being | Film as a sparkler for the synapses | The filmmaker as a host to notional creatures | inside a glass | on screen | It smells of blood and biscuits | The film as oasis of infinite finiteness in the now | A face becomes a countenance| inside a glass | inside the reactor | the Film REAKTOR.

The Film REAKTOR is Bernhard Kammel’s vehicle of choice for producing his films.


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“The film builds up a very intense aesthetic between surgical and playful, between primary colors and aseptic cleanness, between dream-state and reality, between the grotesque of carnival and the seriousness of death. I really liked this permanent dichotomy as well as the production design, which I found impressive in its managing of being poetic and creepy at the same time.”
Stefanie Kuchler, cineworx, 2018




Freiland, strange land: Searching for clues
Bernhard Kammel's feature film debut "Die Tochter" (The Daughter) Michael Pekler, DER STANDARD/print edition, 01.04.2008

He wanted to take the others to the destination in which he himself believed - so stated the plump landlord about the vanished man. The woman sitting opposite him with a coffee and apple strudel is in search of her father. She is in her mid-40s, she has parted hair, and gives the impression of staidness.
Her steps are slow and deliberate, her movements functional. Her father has been missing for 25 years, and now she has come to the small Austrian village to track him down.
However, in Bernhard Kammel's Die Tochterwe are in fact presented with a search for orientation: The village, in which the mother still lives, is called Freiland (Freeland), although one only catches glimpses of its train station with its thick stone walls. The place that the woman enters is an unreal place, resembling a secluded theatre stage: the kitchen, in which the mother still gives her authoritative opinion about the father; the guest house or the small woodland cottage in which the woman meets another woman.
As the film progresses, the nameless woman increasingly becomes like a strange companion in an even stranger place. In any case, Kammel portrays his locations in such an abstract way that the commonplace becomes mysterious: In tack-sharp black and white, the camera feels its way over leaves or wooden wall panels, it becomes a microscope examining every small detail, or it slowly glides around or approaches the characters.
These powerful single takes, some of which stretch to several minutes, adopt the motive of 'searching' and shift it in a different direction. It is soon apparent that it is no longer focussed on the search for the father character, whose image repeatedly turns up as a memory. Instead it is a kind of film-internal consciousness that Kammel, who is an active photographer and writer, is in search of. There is a certain nervousness that permeates the images and also the sound, such as when the ticking of a wall-clock becomes increasing louder and slower.
There are some undisputed comparisons to made here to films from the past, from the early works by Polanski to the silent images of Sven Nykvist. At a certain point it is said that within the manipulated images of the father, the essence of the daughter is concealed. But one must arrive at this realization oneself.

"Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark..."
Birgit Flos
Die Tochter by Bernhard Kammel
So there’s this film: Die Tochter AT 2008, 100 minutes, b/w, 35 mm,
Script, camera, editing, production, direction: Bernhard Kammel, soundtrack: Víg Mihály;
Actors: Sofia Tschernev, Meglena Karalaombava, Vera Baranyai and others.

Premiere: 2.4.2008, as part of the Diagonale 08. International premiere will be at the "Festival of Festivals“ in St. Petersburg (24.6.2008). The re-worked final version of the film Die Tochter has not yet been shown in cinemas. Thus far, the film has no official distributor.

Die Tochter is an independent production, so much so, that the term independent can be taken in its literal sense: FROM SCRATCH, WITHOUT A CENT OF FUNDING, WITHOUT ANY INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT – which was not sought in this case, among other reasons because the author of this film is convinced that a film cannot be presented on (reduced to) a piece of paper for the approval of a committee. However, this is no beginner's film, although it is a first film.
At last we have a film that develops out of the movement and precision of its imagery. With the most subtle shifts in grey value one could hope for – from saturated blacks to a white that is not bleached out and that even when glowing flawlessly shows subtle inscriptions (35 mm!). The camera "relates“, "shows"‚ "develops" interior and exterior action in long takes. It is impossible to convey the "plot" in words (The danger of synopses: Antonioni's Avventura could, for example, mutate into: The passengers of a luxury yacht search a deserted island in vain for a woman, the assumed protagonist of the film.) In Die Tochter it is reversed: it is a woman who is searching. Is she searching for a father figure, or is she searching for the "zones“ of a (possible) life? The literary genre: a picaresque plot development with stages of life, encounters, image rituals. Or, the stranger comes. A Stranger Comes to Town. A lady comes to visit. But she is not a stranger, she comes to her mother's house. "The stranger" could be the past, in concrete terms the places of her c hildhood, the "places" (in the forest) that still carry their magical realism within themselves. A "childhood search“ seems to be continued: In the underbrush – in the rhizomes of the roots – living worlds and intensities become visible that can only be entered after ritual initiations. The camera leads these initiations. Our eyes are guided (for example in a 15 minute pan through the forest), but the depth and density of the images are so intense that our eyes involuntarily embark on a search of their own.
But it is also a story full of dramatic tension: What will she find? Who is the wonderful young being that only speaks Hungarian? In what relation does she stand to her FATHER? Who is the man waving in the forest? Mysteries remain mysterious and hidden.
The film "plays" on an acoustic level as well. The acoustic presentation has been given the same careful attention and creative energy as the visual presentation. It would be going too far to relate the compositional strategies to the visual strategies. Internationally renowned - though in Austria still unknown - actresses appear in the film.
So we have this extraordinary film – and that is not a value judgement, but a fact. Up to now it has not managed to find a distributor. The arguments given for rejecting the film often go like this: The film is of unquestionable image quality, we suspect it to be formalistic! The film shows competent camera work, it is extremely professional, but the dialogue is too "profound" – in other words: "pseudo profound" (Austrian films have been rejected with far less curiosity-arousing arguments than this!)
Unfortunately, even Sixpack Film – the only Austrian distributor for avant-garde films – has rejected the film, replying with the usual (and basically encouraging) standard letter. The author of the film can go and ask what the reasons were that led to the film being rejected, though knowing the author I suppose he will (or will have to) forego that option. Should he have made Die Tochter any differently?
Is it not rather as follows: Some fellow comes along and thinks he can shoot a film without the decision-making competence and expertise of any sponsoring board – following his own vision – and then he wants to put this film into regular distribution, which also operates following the laws and marketing considerations of the fundings that he at first rejected (exploiting himself financially in the process!). This film author would be more inclined to found his own distribution company or, if necessary, organize a place to show it, rather than bow to the wishes of some commission.
So there is this film, Die Tochter, that could provide a highlight, a spectacular proposition, for Austria's oft-praised "cinematic landscape" or its "film culture". A proposition! If those responsible for cinema would take this film under their wing they would be sending out a clear and assertive signal: Such an internationally valid film can be/must be produced and shown in Austria. The icing on the cake – or just icing on one of the many cakes baked everywhere in the country?
And now the story continues: The film maker is preparing his second film. The preparations – always on the highest professional level, technically as well as in form and content – for Die Tochter took two years, not counting the years of photographic and textual work beforehand. This time around he has tried to contact the Austrian funding boards. But the first informative talks have already led to a dead end street. Again there were the issues of synopses, marketing concepts and target audiences. Apparently Die Tocher does not suffice as a reference for achievement. Films should not, of course, be produced to be filed away in a drawer. But is it not alarming that there seems to be no place for film visionaries within the framework of the funding bureaucracy? The target audience for Die Tochter? Women of diverse ages, about 25, 40, 60 years old, who live alone in a forest and have missed a relative for quite some time? Or daughters, a relatively large part of a population?
Or PEOPLE INTERESTED IN FILMS AND ART who feel an urge to discover treasures or might be seduced to feeling this urge through intelligent marketing strategies and communication.
Is it necessary for the creation of legends that extraordinary talents are at first neglected? Is there a shortcut for this unproductive detour? Here is a film maker who has never even been near a film school. This is, by the way, not the only parallel to Andrej Tarkovsky. Those who are familiar with the oeuvre of this film maker who died in 1986 will see other parallels: Art/film can neither be taught nor learned. The function and effect of the production means – camera, light meter, material characteristics etc. – should be demonstrated and practised in as short a time as possible (the last thought is an almost literal quote from Lars von Trier).
Should he not be able now to focus completely on his second film and not on the hurdles one has to take in order to enjoy funding after compromising for a commission?
Bernhard Kammel's new film has the working title Energija.

The plot is a strategic fiction
Telephone conversation with Franz E. Kneissl after the first screening
By Bernhard Kammel

Franz E. Kneissl (FEK): Bernhard Kammel, I enjoyed your film.  For that reason, and without beating around the bush, I would like to ask some questions and make certain observations that I wrote down while watching the film. Is that okay with you?
Bernhard Kammel (BK): Yes, go right ahead.
FEK: What inspires a filmmaker to make a poetic film these days?
BK: The filmmaker does not make a 'poetic film' 'these days' - he simply follows his primary cinematic impulse and develops it from there. I do not employ any genre classifications. I categorically reject genre classification.  Genre classification is a tool used in television programme guides. Its function is to provide a quick overview, and in that respect it is quite useful. But it is not a tool that enables a filmmaker to think about his film. He must even put aside all the considerations he normally has as a recipient. A film is a film. It is a world unto itself that is created within he filmmaker.
FEK: Why does a film need an explanation?
BK: I didn't want to provide an explanation, actually.  That's why I didn't apply for any subsidies or support - I didn't want to be obliged to give information to anyone about my film.
Alone the presentation of an unborn film is an act of intimacy and risk. Talking about it or writing a description at such an early stage could give rise to clarifications that might hinder the further development of the idea. Now that the film is complete, I feel more relaxed and in a better position to talk about it.
FEK: Okay. So why black and white?
BK: By relinquishing the dimension of colour, black and white facilitates the abstracting of perception. It causes a slight disquietude. For a moment, we face the temptation of wanting to consider the film as reality. But it lacks the colour to allow us to naively pursue that consideration. So we find ourselves in a state of stimulated perception. That's the best thing we can experience.
FEK: So why did you even strive to make the images in sharp focus? Wouldn't the images being out of focus demand more active participation and thus enable more initiative?
BK: That is a question of degree and appropriateness. More blurring does not necessarily mean more freedom. It would have to be very much out of focus, to the point that we can only perceive it very vaguely. That would give us the freedom to invent the characters ourselves. But then there'd be no need for a film. Being out of focus is a semantic strategy of relating to the image. Something that we can see clearly is shown blurred in a certain context. But the image being out of focus as a strategy to continuously deny some recognition stretches the limits of the possible. It's not freedom, but rather absence.
FEK: I'd like to return to my opening question and specify further: While other people are dealing with current social issues, you are going on about a daughter's search for her father. I attended the Bachmann competition in Klagenfurt, and every time one of the authors started talking about his or her relationship to his or her grandmother, I got up and left. Why occupy oneself with issues that have been dealt with a hundred times before?
BK: What it comes down to is that we were always occupied with the same set of so-called eternal questions. Our astonishment that we exist and that there is not just nothingness. Our fear of disappearing from existence. The perception of what is real. The pain of realizing that someone did exist , but does no more. What really occupies us is the existential, not the actions. Actions do not interest me. No kind of plot interests me. The plot is a strategic fiction.
FEK: Are you saying that as a society we have not evolved at all since we are eternally occupied with the same recurring questions?
BK: No. But the internal opinions about one's 'sein' (being) thrown into the world, can be neither inherited, nor taught, nor remembered. We all have to continually realize them by the sweat of our brows.
FEK: But the directness of presentation has increased. We examine things more closely. We're not beating around the bush. We take on ideas and develop them.
BK: You mean that there are fewer taboos and therefore we're examining things more closely and thus labelling things? Taboos are psycho-social wave traps that serve to protect our perceptions like a filter. Why should we be considered psychologically more stable than our forefathers? You wouldn't believe how many new taboos are constantly emerging for those few we have abolished. We only notice them when they become inappropriate, but most of the time we don't even realize they're there. But yes, there are some areas that we examine more closely. FEK: More directness requires more action.
BK: No, on the contrary. Every story should be told from the inside. It suffices to allow the complex intentions of the characters to unfold at a decisive moment and to absorb their unconscious orbitals.
FEK: How far can one afford to relinquish a plot before the audience ceases to be engaged?
BK: That can only be answered on a film-by-film basis and it can't be applied to everyone. Generally speaking, I believe I'm in a position to state that we should not underestimate the flexibility and engagement of our audience.

The search for time in sound and image
Birgit Flos

There are several anecdotes about someone anonymously submitting a text by a writer such as Robert Walser or Arno Schmidt and months later receives a polite rejection from a renowned publisher: We regret to inform you that your manuscript is incompatible with the concept of our publishing house. With kind regards ...
At the end of a long day of viewing films submitted for the festival, I take a DVD from the shelf: 'Die Tochter', a full-length feature film, 90 minutes. The director? Bernhard Kammel, completely unknown to me. He wrote the script and he also took on camera duties. My expectations? I suspected to be confronted with an uninhibited display of self-exploitation; this was a person who had undertaken the mammoth task, starting from scratch and without financial support, to produce a full-length feature film.
The fist surprise (why was it pleasant?): the film was shot in glorious black and white. I check the technical details,  and sure enough: 35 mm. It was clear that the person who made this film was serious about what he was doing. From the very start, the shades of grey, the graduation from pristine white to deep black, are captivating.
Ansel Adams exposure rule is evident: expose for the shadows, develop for the light.
Two people are sitting opposite one another in a train compartment: a young monk in a light habit and a woman of indefinite age who is trying to read a book. The window is centred, and in it the actual film is unfolding: the landscape passes by. When the bushes close to the window whoosh past, the motion of the train can be felt/seen even more distinctly - when views of meadows or hills in the distance appear, the velocity seems to decrease, because the distance covered is less apparent in the 'moving' landscape.  Mountains in the extreme background move only minimally.
In the interaction between the two passengers, small, unspectacular reinterpretations occur which prompt a jolly tranquillity: a monk with a mobile phone. He wants to compose on the mobile phone. The woman is unsettled. He reassures her - he has studied music. He takes a bite of an apple and resumes, full of concentration, saving and playing a series of notes. The woman takes her leave at the 'Freiland' (Freeland) station. The regional train, consisting of only one rail-car, continues on its noisy way.
I am wide awake, the film fascinates me from the first to the last minute. Nothing had prepared me for viewing 'Die Tochter'. I do not fall into the trap and return this anonymous masterpiece to its author. The paradox: my enthusiasm will obstruct others' unbiased access to this film. Their expectations will be high if they trust me even a little bit.
But how can I present a film 'anonymously' so as not to spoil others' pleasure of discovery? One thing is clear: I shall never again see the film I saw at the first viewing.
I try to describe the plot to myself. The film is about a father who did not return home several years ago. The man is patiently awaited by his wife – at any moment he might walk into the room  The woman who has arrived by train walks down the path (in the forest) that her father used to take. In fact, she is not searching for him, but for the items that fell out of her bag in the forest: her mobile phone and her lipstick. And yes, this is a production error: the bag (?) is clearly pulled away when she reaches for it, just like children place an invisible thread with a purse attached to it on a footpath and have fun pulling it away when passers-by bend down to grab their supposed booty. 
An error? Perhaps someone is pulling a string in the forest to lure her ever deeper into the unknown. A different young woman, who speaks Hungarian, joins the search. The two are successful - it seems that mobile phones are scattered around the forest like rare plants or berries. A key scene, which is perhaps only retained in my head in this form: A man in waist-high grass first disappears into the background of the image  waving and shortly afterwards approaches again gesturing in a friendly way with his arms. In the script it is made clear that this is the father, who makes his farewells before going into the 'Zone'. I shall not continue reading the script - I insist on keeping 'my' unstable associations which are put together from the images. It seems to me that the man is seeking, from another time zone, contact with those still living.
He waves from the distance of a different (lost) level of reality, to which there is no deductive contact - like the laughing fireman at the start of 'Blue Velvet'. amicable and threatening.
Then there is an extremely long pan through the forest (15 minutes! Did he put down tracks? Or did he use a steady-cam? The answer is: tracks!). The different forest layers become visible: Leaves, roots, moss, which appear to be compressed to a dark humus in the lower layers (fairy tale illustrations by Moritz von Schwindt) or Ludwig Richter. Puzzle picture. Your eyes seem to feel out the forest floor, they start to discover details that are perhaps not relevant, but there definitely is something strange, uncanny. This search is not in vain. At any rate there is cinematic energy, an unspectacular and non-speculative increase  in dramatic tension.
The woman bathes in a river and this elicits associations on the act of baptism or at least catharsis. The film ends with a love scene: one of the women washes the other's hair.
At the second viewing, I become aware of image strategies that maybe contribute to the activation of astute attention and pleasure in viewing over and over again. 
It has something to do with the revelation and concealment of the visible foreground. The woman walks through the forest. Tree trunks conceal her, the black contours of bushes continually hide her from view. The camera keeps its distance, and does not permit itself too much (supposedly all-knowing) closeness. What could we know about this woman? Only that which we see and hear. Occasionally she speaks for too long into her mobile phone. I want her voice to be concealed – perhaps her voice should simply be concealed in a language that I do not understand, but need not understand. Would all the information and thoughts that I hear bring me any closer to the woman?
Then there's the continual shifting of proportions. There is a house in the forest. In a long shot, a dainty woman is to be seen on the terrace. At the same instant, the house assumes a different quality, perhaps it is just a flimsy hut. The forest that I remembered from the first viewing was gigantic, a forest almost in the emphatic sense of the word: FOREST/ WALD. Without the human characters, the tree trunks could be from a relatively young plantation, but then the two women appear and are completely concealed by single tree trunks.
Then there's the relationship between closeness and distance in sound and image: The images keep an almost respectful distance, the sound is often disproportionately close, more direct, more assertive than the images in the long single takes. It all happens in the image, yet remains ultimately inexplicable, becomes over-explicit or withdraws.
The director and I established an intense e-mail exchange.
Who are you? How did you end up making such a film (which could also be impertinent, "within a hair's breadth of formalism", as a film buff commented.)?
Bernhard Kammel: "Action does not interest me. I am only interested in the film“. We gradually checked one another out by comparing scenes of our favourite movies .We very quickly ended up with Tarkovsky's 'Zerkalo' – The Mirror. I am not referring here to the first (found footage?) scene, in which a young man is cured of a speech defect by hypnosis: the overwhelming manipulative power of the filmic image (everything is possible in film!), but rather to the scene of the first encounter, in which two people communicate from a distance, using only eye contact, signalling that they have both seen 'it': the wind that sweeps over a meadow. I cannot rationalize the viewing pleasure that 'Zerkalo' releases within me. The rhythm is not fictive, nor random, nor constructed in a purely speculative way.
In the film, the rhythm unfolds organically, having its counterpart in the director's own awareness of life and in his "search for time". I have, so to speak, the impression, that time in the takes should unfold independently and with its own dignity. Only thus can the inherent ideas find their place without haste. The sense of rhythm is the same as for - let's say the sense for choosing the right word in literature. An imprecise word in literature damages  the credibility of a work no less than does imprecise rhythm in a film. (Andrej Tarkovsky: Sculpting in Time, P. 140)
Sacrilege? It's tricky when one talks of resemblance and correspondences:
Years ago, in a full-to-the-rafters Sorbonne lecture hall, I said to an acquaintance, vaguely pointing in the direction of a person at the far end of the hall: "Don't you think that this man bears a resemblance to X?" He answered full of conviction, "No, not in the slightest."
Birgit Flos has been the artistic director of DIAGONALE since 2004.

An art experiment that rediscovers the true nature of the language of film, or, on the film “The Daughter” ("Die Tochter") by Bernhard Kammel
Iskra Dimitrova, PhD in arts, film critic

One should perhaps have been professionally involved in cinema for a long time, have seen hundreds, if not thousands of films and be intimately familiar with the history of the development of the century-old ‘seventh art’ in order to be, like myself, surprised by the debut film by the Austrian Bernhard Kammel.
I must admit that I did not at first expect that "The Daughter" would be a film that rediscovers the nature of cinema. It seemed that in the middle of the 20th century, cinema had conclusively identified itself with the "new wave" of French cinema or with Italian neo-realism. At the close of the same century cinema had abandoned a part of its true nature for new technology in the interests of Hollywood-style entertainment.
Although over the past decade I've often thought that cinema in the 21st century will inevitably return to its true nature and above all to its unique language, which consists of the “elements” of reality itself, I would never have suspected that a debut film from Austria would affirm this so impressively. Particularly through the absolute insistence on one's very personal form of author’s expression, without making concessions to standard conventions in cinema. The author, Bernhard Kammel, enjoyed this rare luxury because he financed the film himself.
Bernhard Kammel is a talented photographer, and has studied theosophy. As screenwriter, director and cameraman, he visualised on the big screen his own intellectual reflection on the Universe and on Man as a little part of it.
He had achieved this using an unique combination of the apparently „unassociable” specifics of the static of the art photography and the motion in the art of film. This is the first time I have seen so mutually enriched the nature of both media, knowing of course that namely “moving photography” gave birth to cinema over 100 years ago.
Images on screen - shot in black and white.
Play with light - captured by the eye of a master photographer.
Untouched nature and a primeval forest: as if they are within the frame of a painting. And inside this “painting” the smallest or the most insignificant movements in the plant and animal world are captured by the eye of a master of film.
The film “music” consists mostly of sounds in the nature that can only be heard in complete silence and with a conscious effort.
Kammel had resolutely decided to show many episodes as long shots - and this in the moments when we would usually expect close-ups.
The characters are very small in number.
The unfolding of the plot is only hinted at, and put aside as something unessential.
What for?
I believe it is to achieve a completely unexpected spiritual effect on our sensory organs. Thus, our self-perception of the material reality around us is suspended for 90 minutes, allowing us, as equal participants to fuse with the existential-philosophical understanding of life by the characters and their search for themselves not anywhere else but in the Universe. (And I was seized by a spiritual excitement that I had perhaps not felt since my youth.)
The starting point of the story is: a Daughter who returns to her birthplace in order to find her father who had disappeared over 20 years before in the risky pursuit of an idea he believed in.
The search for one's Father is actually the search for oneself - on both an individual and a general human level.
The main question is not: “Who am I?”, but rather: “What am I?”
This question underlies the film-reflection on the life itself, on the entire world itself and on the mankind as a microscopic part of the universal order – nothing more.
To prove that from the beginning to the end the film revolves around questions of time and ephemeral.
The film proves that emphasizing not what happens in the action or the plot but emphasizing usually inconspicuous human gestures, frames of mind, power of attraction, and human spiritual contacts even through body language.
Bernhard Kammel hypnotizes us with the idea that as human beings we have to recognize ourselves as a part of the harmony of the Universe, bound by the laws of impermanence and infinity or to recognize us as a part of the eternity of the Universe and of the material and spiritual beauty of that Universe.
At this point I should mention the skill of the actors who contribute to this art experiment in a unique way. The manner, in which the actors had managed to achieve such organic unity in their emotional/psychological presence on the screen without the aid of an unfolding story plot, is astonishing to me.
This applies especially to the actress in the leading role, Sofia Tchernev, née Kuzeva, who provides an insight into the inner life of her character in every moment even when she does not have any words to say. Her inner life is, from the beginning to the end of the film, rich in questions, feelings, thoughts and quests for orientation in values. This is really incredible acting!
The other actors in the supporting roles shine with the same brilliance of this acting style. Meglena Karalambova plays the Mother, Vera Baranyai the Hungarian girl, Imo Heite the accordion-playing cook, Daniel Frantisek Kamen the Monk, and Robert Krotz the Father. As like-minded participants they managed to integrate themselves in the process of the realization of this author’s film by Bernhard Kammel as an organic unity in this exceptional philosophical film reflection on the Universe.
In the context of world cinema, "The Daughter" is an art provocation which provides an impressive reminder of the inexhaustible possibilities of the film language. Translated by Alexander Zuckrow / Film und Video / Untertitel AG, Potsdam

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