EmptyNachmittagfilm Angela Schanelec/ZDF
BERLIN -- No film festival can afford not to include an art film like "Afternoon" (Nachmittag). Indeed, film programmers, discovering an absence in their schedule, have been known to beg a friend or relative to quickly make such a film. This sometimes gives rise to the complaint that the film looks like something made by a programmer's friend or relative.
This is known as deeply personal cinema. Which means that the filmmaker and lead actress, Angela Schanelec, the production company and at least one other actress all share the same last name.
For such films, there are time-honored rules for audiences and filmmakers alike. For instance, at the Sunday afternoon press market screening for "Afternoon," which is screening in the Forum section at the Berlinale, few people walked out.
To do so would be common and not the act of a true lover of cinema. Some even turned off their cell phones in due respect. For her part, the filmmaker may never introduce characters or identify their relationships. This must be gleaned from the non-sequitur dialogue and body language or lack thereof. There must be no story, little camera movement and an atmosphere of melancholy.
The opening scene takes place on a theater stage. This means the film could open with high drama or low comedy or even music. But true to deeply personal cinema, the curtain here rises on a rehearsal where everything has come to a halt while cast, crew and director await some unknown event to happen.
The heroine and a dog occupy the stage. The dog has the good sense to lie down for a snooze. The actress, in her only action, pets him twice. So in an economical seven minutes the movie establishes that its heroine is an actress.
An old man and a young man talk beside a bucolic lake. Father and son? Lovers? Next-door neighbors? Even the dialogue won't help. But another five minutes are gone.
Then in a brisk 31⁄2 minutes, the actress-heroine arrives at a home in Berlin. (The writer of the program notes gives away the location.)
The scene does spark audience concerns. Why does the man in the car deposit the woman and two heavy suitcases on the sidewalk but not help her to the door? And why does he leave his driver's side door open for nearly three minutes, all but blocking the residential road?
One sequence illustrates a problem in low-budget filmmaking. The young boy, presumably a son, smacks the woman, presumably his mother, in the face. A scene or so later, the woman is nursing a bloody hand. This is what happens when you can't afford a continuity girl.
Those of us with a shaky knowledge of German eventually realize the film represents an opportunity to learn German. Like those audio-visual language lab aids, the film shows people speaking slowly in sentences of no particular meaning or consequence with the English translation right underneath as subtitles.
When the lights finally do come up, awakening the person next to me, she murmurs, "What was that about?" I glance at my watch. "About 97 minutes," I reply.