Academic journal article Style

In the Mood of a Fine Day: Embodied Cognition and Camera Mobility in the Berlin School

Academic journal article Style

In the Mood of a Fine Day: Embodied Cognition and Camera Mobility in the Berlin School

Article excerpt

The Fine Day (2001) by director Thomas Arslan is a prime example of what is referred to as the Berlin School in German cinema. The film recounts a day in the life of Deniz, a young woman of Turkish background, in present-day Berlin. It is the third part of a trilogy on the life of young migrants in Berlin. The tag Berlin School, however, does not result from the films' location or themes. Its name was coined by critics to reflect the fact that the directors of its first generation--Christoph Petzold, Angela Schanelec, and Thomas Arslan--graduated from the Deutsche Film und Femsehakademie Berlin (DFFB), even though nowadays the majority of directors associated with the Berlin School are from all over Germany.

Arslan's film is not overtly concerned with Deniz's particular problems as a migrant, as might have been expected from a "Berlin Movie." Rather, the almost plotless film revolves around (or rather follows) Deniz's futile quest to understand love and emotion. The distinct stylistic characteristics through which The Fine Day captures this quest--the stationary camera, their equally static and precise framing, the consistently intra-diegetic soundtrack as well as its non-dramatic, subdued acting and slow editing--lend this and other films of the Berlin School a decidedly unique look and feel. These aesthetic characteristics have earned directors of the Berlin School a reputation as the "Nouvelle Vague Allemande" and placed them in the tradition of auteurs such as Michelangelo Antonioni, Eric Rohmer, Rainer M. Fassbinder, or Alexander Kluge. Their "cinematic manifesto" Germany 09 (2009)--echoing the famous film collage Germany in Autumn (1978), created by the most prestigious directors of the New German Cinema--inscribes the Berlin School into this arthouse tradition. At the same time, the films represent a deliberate attempt on the part of the Berlin School directors to distance themselves from the mainstream German "cinema of consensus" of the later 1980s and 1990s (Rentschler 264). (1)

This article investigates camera movement as one of the crucial and distinct stylistic features of the Berlin School and will bring to the fore the specific relationship between viewer and camera as elicited by this stylistic strategy. Camera motion--or rather the lack thereof--ties in tightly with the School's reflection on the human ability or inability to express emotion in real life and in (conventional) narrative cinema. In Arslan's film this theme becomes intertwined with the issue of the "gaze," another important topic in film criticism ever since Laura Mulvey's seminal essay on "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." While repeatedly making eye contact with other people, the protagonist fails to fully connect with their emotional universe. The significance of this recurring failure is underscored by means of Arslan's motionless camera: it actively inhibits and reveals to the viewer the intricate system of communication of bodies and gazes at work in our daily life. Put differently, through his camera work, Arslan investigates the gaze as embodied. Thus, a second-generation, embodied approach to camera movement allows us to get a grip on these subtle effects of the camera. It moves the focus of the debate around the role of the camera from viewers' involvement with plot and character to notions such as mood, which subtly yet crucially shape our engagement with cinema. Blurring the boundaries between documentary and fiction film, the films of the Berlin School--and The Fine Day in particular--bring the spectator close to individual characters whilst simultaneously creating a sense of existential isolation which problematizes simple identification with them. Before delving into the close reading of camera movement in Arslan's film, I will take a detour to briefly show how embodied approaches can offer new perspectives on this long-standing topic of film analysis.

Approaches to Camera Movement

Over the past few decades, two major strands have prevailed in film studies and in the discussion of camera movement. …

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