February 18, 2008
On the surface, the stationary, extended long take of a desolate, tree-lined woods, the unhurried opening shot of Nanouk Leopold's Wolfsbergen (channelling a sublimated naturalism that recalls Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice and Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light), seems disconnected from the film's succeeding, fragmented images of the quotidian. In one episode, a middle-aged woman, Maria (Catherine ten Bruggencate) travels out of the country to have a cosmetic procedure secretly performed, and is unsettled by a letter read during her return flight. The clinical images of the cosmetic surgeon's examining room is subsequently reflected in the shot of a middle-aged man, Ernst (Jan Decleir) briefly resting in the examination chair of his dental office before the arrival of his next patient. In another episode, lovers Sabine (Tamar van den Dop) and Micha (Oscar van Wounsel) sit in familiar silence post coitus, before parting for the afternoon. Their silent, unaffected intimacy is similarly evoked in the image of an emotionally fragile violinist, Eva (Karina Smulders) who looks on as a former lover flirts openly with a fellow musician during rehearsal. In still another episode, a contrite adolescent girl, Haas (Merel van Houts) helps her mother pick up the shards of broken tableware that she has dropped on the floor. Soon, the connection between these isolated characters emerge - Maria and her husband Ernst, their daughters Sabine and Eva, Sabine's husband Onno (Fedja van Huêt) and lover Micha, Sabine and Onno's daughters Haas and Zilver (Carmen Lith) - reluctantly brought together by the family patriarch, Konraad (Piet Kamerman) after he declares his intention of committing suicide on the anniversary of his wife's death. Hewing towards Jaime Rosales's Solitary Fragments (released in the same year), Leopold similarly integrates episodic, fragmented narrative, compartmentalization, and obstructed shots (often framed through doorways or against occluding objects) as a visual reinforcement of the characters' estrangement and emotional fracture. However, while Solitary Fragments uses bifurcated narratives as a means of illustrating converging emotional states, the bifurcations in Wolfsbergen are symptomatic of their own internalized fissures (a dysfunction that is harrowingly reflected in Haas's unconscious act of self-mutilation during her parents' argument). It is this self-destruction and emotional starvation that is poignantly embodied in Konraad's chosen method of suicide - an abstinence of water - that, like Tsai Ming-liang's recurring images of water, reflects an elemental human need for connection and intimacy.