“Human Flowers of Flesh” in the cinema: Images like gentle wave movements

A rumor is going around at the port of Marseille: A boat has been sighted, it belongs to a woman, she lives on it with her crew, nobody knows anything about her. This is how some imagine freedom, a life in motion, in flux. The woman’s name is Ida, and the film accompanies her from Marseille to Corsica, from Corsica to the Algerian coast. The five men of her crew have given themselves kindly to the movements of the sea, they observe, touch, collect what they find in their nets, press it into books, ship the plants, feathers and fossilized animals from the nearest port to the archives on the mainland .

Ida (Angeliki Papoulia) doesn’t speak, and the German director Helena Wittmann doesn’t tell a story in the traditional sense in “Human Flowers of Flesh”. In the tight camera angles, stillness and movement are composed in tableaus: the straight mirror of the water glass in the swaying cabin, the rolling eyeballs of the sleeping people, the floating stillness on board. People often look away from other forms of life, under water and under microscopes: deposits, osmosis, filters.

Seaman’s yarn is being spun on the deck of the two-master, the men are reading books to each other and Ida. Marguerite Duras’ “Sailor of Gibraltar” tells of a seawoman’s gentle search for an escaped foreign legionnaire, contrasting with Friedrich Glauser’s feverish male fantasies of bored soldiers who want to conquer the desert but are instead fighting the dust and heat.

Ida and her team also meet foreign legionnaires in the port cities, and the camera follows Ida’s gaze with fascination at the muscles in the tight jerseys, at machine gun tattoos, at parachutes sliding into the desert. It is a female view of placeless male body performances that has an open model in Claire Deni’s famous Foreign Legionnaire film “Beau Travail”. Its main character Galoup, played by Denis Lavant, also appears in “Human Flowers of Flesh” at the end, maybe even the sailor from Gibraltar that Ida is looking for.

Feminine looks and soldier bodies

The works of Helena Wittmann, who also acts as a camerawoman, editor, author and co-producer, have so far been an insider tip among festival visitors and critics, although they make immediately sensual, almost tactile offers. Her second feature film now has a regular theatrical release and offers a chance to experience a form of filmmaking that, amidst all the commercial surges (and alongside the superfluous divisions into mainstream and experimental film, art house and video art), defends a corally intriguing existence.

How the analogue film material trembles slightly with the filmed wave movements, how myths and sailor’s yarn are woven into sunlit material samples, how gently a female body experience is compared to male ones, all this makes “Human Flowers of Flesh” a poetic daydream that does not have a generic narrative form or content-heavy dialogues required. “We bent our skin towards the sea (…), people without places, hugs, land,” quotes a sailor from a poem by Ivana MiloŇ°.

The film’s aestheticizing strategies do not follow any apolitical principles of privileged, ahistorical impressionism. What is observed, touched, captured and collected here is at stake right now. A waitress in a harbor bar tells of coral cemeteries in the Caribbean. Military aircraft rusting on the seabed. How long can these recordings be made, the film asks, the material itself eventually showing signs of dissolution. “Human Flowers of Flesh” sends its precious impressions as postcards to the cinemas. You can pick them up there.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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