Chamissos Schatten (Chamisso's Shadow), Ulrike Ottinger, Germany, 2016, 714' Original version with Spanish subtitles, DCP.
This is a travel film. A monumental old-school travel film like the ones made at a time when a ship would set sail from a port in Europe and no one would know when or how it would come back. As her reference point, Ulrike Ottinger takes the journal of German romantic poet and botanist Adelbert von Chamisso, kept in 1815 during a 4-year scientific voyage around the world on board the Russian ship Rurik. Starting with his descriptions, observations and notes, she re-writes his particular documentary journey through Alaska and the northern coasts. The film thus expands to become a unique experience: Ottinger takes the story, the literature, the diaries and the evocations of exotic expeditions and blends them with her own notes, look and voice. The result is pure illustrated cinema. Illustrated cinema in the sense in which a certain literary tradition has combined drawings, text, appointments, engravings and photographs with complete liberty to evoke far-off lands, possible lives and the immensity and mystery of the world around us. Adventure literature, it used to be called. Scientific voyages, they called them. From Humboldt to Captain Cook. From one geography to another: Mongolia, the Silk Road, the Taklamakan desert... The pleasure of names heard for the first time, the attraction for things furthest from us, for places still unnamed on the maps. The pleasure, too, of an inhabitable film: rarely has a movie theatre been like a ship you can board and let yourself go. And what’s more, it’s excellently filmed.
The title, Chamisso's Shadow, comes from a creation by German poet Chamisso. In 1813, he wrote a novel in which a character called Peter Schlemihl sells his shadow to the devil and then devotes his entire life to travelling around the world trying to get it back. In her film, Ottinger plays with this literary reference, demonstrating that past and present are as inseparable as shadow and body, always going hand in hand. Anthropology, ethnography and history contrasting and in dialogue with Ottinger's visual materials and notes.
Twelve hours journey and the freedom to understand and make cinema in which everything is possible: observation, listening, narration, drift, memory and future. And a final question: Does the voyage really end when the voyage ends? Is the tale of a journey not perhaps the only way of converting what has been seen, heard or lived into an everlasting experience? Is that not precisely what art is?
This latest film of Ottinger is a 714-minute journey. 12 hours divided into four episodes:
16th July, Saturday. 20:00: Chamissos Schatten. Episode 1: Alaska y las islas Aleutian, Alemania, 2016, 193'
17th July, Sunday. 19:00: Chamissos Schatten. Episode 2: Chukotka, Alemania, 2016 192'
23rd July, Saturday. 19:00: Chamissos Schatten. Episode 3: Chukotka y las islas Wrangel, Alemania, 2016, 155'
24th July, Sunday. 19:00: Chamissos Schatten. Episode 4: Kamchatka y la isla de Bering, Alemania, 2016, 174'