"If I think about the future of cinema as art, I shiver" (Y. Ozu, 1959)

FUTURE OF CINEMA (1) - Chaos (Sara Fattahi)

Sunday, 02 December 2018 18:57

Lulu Shamiyya

Chaos, a State of Apparent Calm



Filming ‘peace’ might be more challenging, painful, and disrupting than filming war. Just like trying to give consistency to words, combine them into a logical sequence or confine them in a narrative structure, turn the heavy sounds of bombing into the soft whispering of a poem celebrating the end of a conflict.


In her latest film Chaos, winner of the golden leopard in the Filmmakers of the Present section at Locarno Festival 2018, the Syrian filmmaker Sara Fattahi not only establishes a lyrical connection with the Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachman’s feeling of uneasiness when writing in a time of ‘peace’, in the aftermaths of World War II. Fattahi literally becomes Bachman, embracing the displacement and estrangement surfacing when the chaos of war is followed by the apparent calmness of ‘peace’, of a place that is physically at ‘peace’.


Yet, what is ‘peace’? What does it mean to be home, to be safe?


Following her debut feature Coma, which was entirely filmed in her Damascus apartment turned into a battlefield of interior conflicts mirroring the war unfolding in the country, Fattahi continues to explore home interiors and human interiority with a look at her new ‘home’, Austria. She wanders around in a Vienna at ‘peace’, a city that seems abandoned by humans, voided - in stark contrast with the title of the film, Chaos - by any possible conflict, suspended in a state of surreal calm. No sounds come out from the city except from Bachman’s voice, from her desperate attempt to find appropriate vibrations, expressions, that could turn the brutality of war into the poetic celebration of the finally re-established peace. Fattahi dissociates the words from the movements, and the sounds from the body by inserting a dopplenganger, a mediator between Bachman and herself, who is - also - both Bachman and herself.


Chaos (Sara Fattahi)

Actress Jaschka Lämmert frantically walks around the quiet, sleepy, wintry Austrian capital in search of peace. Yet every movement of her body tells of an endless conflict that she carries inside her, and which she takes to the most innocent places, becoming war zones in their turn.

The underground train filled with hundreds of ordinary, bored travelers, fighting everyday on the way to their work or families, is a war zone. The contemporary art museum with its glorious paintings depicting gruesome scenes of violence, like Caravaggio’s David with the head of Goliath is a war zone - yet, as Sokurov’s Francofonia tragically suggests, is not every work of art displayed in such innocent and magnificent places always the result of warfare and violence, of expropriation and oppression?


Even the door of her apartment, of Fattahi’s apartment, seems to be at war, refusing to open, rebelling against ideas of normalcy and domesticity, in the end rejecting to be a home.


Yet when the conflict calms down a bit, and the door finally accepts to be opened, it still fails to offer a safe refuge to her tenant. Whereas the city is soundless and speechless, the home interiors are infested with sounds heard in the background, soft but continuous, coming from far away, from other haunted Syrian homes. These odd, unfamiliar, uncomfortable sounds take us to Raja’s home in Damascus, and to Heba’s place in Sweden. Both have suffered because of the war, both have been deprived of loved ones - a son, a brother - by the brutality of the conflict. War threats everything, including the most innocent human gesture, like a seemingly friendly hand shaking, which for Raja becomes the creepy sign of a confession given by the murderer of her son.

War also threats the innocuous landscape of a Swedish forest: trees, birds, nature become dreadful, intimidating, frightening, abnormal in the eyes of Heba’s bipolar disorder after the tragic loss of her brother.


Syria is surely not at peace. Yet in Chaos nothing is at peace, not even the sleepy Vienna, or the quiet Sweden. Nothing seems to be at peace in the end, neither the Middle East nor Europe. Neither the underground train, nor the museum. Neither the forest, nor the door key.


This mysterious link between the conflict and the apparent lack of it, between a condition of permanent war and a condition of apparent peace, is fluidly and elegantly rendered in the editing process by Raya Yamisha, undoubtedly the most talented and inventive monteuse of the new Syrian cinema, who already worked with Fattahi in her debut feature. This is yet another confirmation of the successful artistic collaboration between the two women, and a slap in the face of those who assume that contemporary Syria lacks powerful female figures. In Yamisha’s hands all the sophisticated layers offered by Fattahi’s filmmaking - the visual layers of her women and of herself, together with the sound layers of the forest, the underground, the museum, the home interiors and the outdoor space - merge and dissolve into a seamless stream of consciousness. We do not know what sound belongs to what place, what place generates what sounds. Is that really a forest, are they really birds those who scare us instead of comforting us? Is this really home?


We do not know where Syria ends and Europe begins, where war stops and peace takes over, as sounds and images follow the same flow, the same trajectory. They all belong to the same place, which is a state of calm, the - only apparent - calm of a place that has experienced a mere physical peace. This calm is in fact a state of distress, an open conflict involving normalcy and ordinariness. Everything in its right place, nothing in its right place: when the home door does not want to open, when art and nature scare away, rather than giving relief.


Chaos reminds us that to tell about the brutality of the war we do not need spectacular shots, destruction or rescue scenes, blood, boats sinking, houses being torn down, scattered bodies.

Sara Fattahi’s lyrical camera makes us look at the counter-shot, the invisible, hidden frame: that of ‘peace’, that of the frightening ordinariness ultimately refusing to be ordinary.



Chaos is a state of apparent calm, that of a permanent, ineradicable war.



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