Tuesday, October 8, 2013

An evening in Abries with Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols, USA: 2011

For T.

At the beginning I didn´t understand what of these two elements, the crisis of a marriage or the vision of an apocalyptic storm is the Mc Guffin.
I saw this film recently in  Abriès the second time.
It is a story about a small town community. Everybody knows everyone.
A deceiving idyll.
The worker Curtis is tortured by night mares of an end time apocalypse caused by a storm. Pets and people are turning into dangerous beasts.
Curtis (Michael Shannon) is married with Samantha,(Jessica Chastain). They have a hearing impaired daughter.
Nichols creates at the beginning suspense with the famous “false tracks” of Hitchcock.
The nightmares of Curtis appear abrupt, not interwoven in this film but short harsh invasions of terror.
In their seeming peaceful every day life, the real but more subtle terror drops in, in small portions at the beginning, than gradually stronger.
There is the latent fragility of an American working class existence. House, car, all this symbols of wealth can disappear in a short time when its owner looses his job. Or why is selling Samantha self needled textiles and saves money in a hidden box?
To get the appropriate surgery for their daughter it takes time to persuade the health insurance.
Curtis`mother abandoned him as a child because she suffers under schizophrenia.
The characters live under a thread and it is difficult to say what is the least bad one.
Curtis obsession for building a shelter in his garden against a storm, no one sees and nobody believes in, isolates him first from his friends, finally from his wife and his child. As he finally looses his job it makes the threat for this small family even worse.

The terror of the nightmares of an apocalyptic storm and the more subtle terror of a family which is in danger to go apart offers two explanations but than remains name less. One almost feel a hidden volcano under the neat lawn around the house. The nameless fear is even more impressive written in the faces of such great actors like Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. Both are shining as believable every day like characters and they are typical for a film which takes care of small signs of a workers family life.

Take Shelter is a film which grows with every time I watch it. It is a very modern contemporary film but at the same time a very old fashioned embodiment of the believe that Cinema is invented for activating the audience´s imagination. The film is not a transformation from imagination into images, it seems to be a tool where we can found our own visions, our own imagination back, an imagination we are often in danger to loose.

The great films and also the great films from American Cinema are not necessary the ones with forced originality but films which are unique and at the same time deeply rooted in the diversity of nearly 120 years of film history. The most extreme extreme example of this richness and rootedness is probably The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick, director whose work spans 4 decades of film history. It is remarkable that Jeff Nichols, a very young director makes not only unique films (his most recent wonderful Mud included) - his films are rooted in that what I call “pure Cinema” which can replace a lot of lections about film history or film theory.

The end is much more than the solution of Nichols very unique suspense: it is disturbing and heartbreaking, a choreography of glances between Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain which will remain in my memory.
Everything seems to be solved. The family spends some days at the beach before Curtis will get surgery in a psychiatric hospital. He plays with his daughter on the beach building castles of sand. One disturbed look of the girl, followed by Curtis looking at the beach. A storm is coming. Samantha in her kitchen goes on the porch, sees the same.
She looks at Curtis who is still doubting the things he saw. His look has something like a question. She nods – the film is over.
What an exchange of glances! It reminds me in Ozu, Fei Mu´s masterpiece Xiǎochéng zhī chūn (Spring in a small town, 1948) and Hitchcock at the same time.
How Curtis looks at Samantha waiting for a confirmation from her and the fact that both of them see the same world for the first time in this film had such an impact on me which I can´t describe. Why ignored this moment when I saw the film for the first time in 2012 , I can not say. The seeming psychological drama and the end time vision seem to absorb each other in front of two faces which seems strangely naked, as naked as my emotional reaction.
As I thought I knew everything what the film is about or with what elements he played – I forgot at this last moment everything. I am not even sure why I felt tears in my eyes and the need to hide myself for a moment in my guest room.

Rüdiger Tomczak

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