he opening credits of Orphea—co-directed by Alexander Kluge, polymathic elder statesman of the German avant-garde and lion of the New German Cinema, and the Filipino author, artist, musician, and insanely prolific film auteur Khavn—feature tasteful line drawings over soulful organ music. After that, all hell breaks loose. Literally. The stations of the classical Orpheus’ journey are given on title cards throughout, but this is not your middle school’s 1:1 retelling of a Greek myth.
Through the fire, darkness, and rock’n’roll of a mostly nocturnal Manila, the film’s gender-flipped protagonist, Orphea (played by Sundance and Berlinale favorite Lilith Stangenberg, Wild), searches this Hades not only for her lover, Euridiko (Ian Madrigal, Nymphomaniac), but also for the Apokatastasis panton, the redemption of all humankind from death. But how? Through music? Film itself? Art? But here is one of Orphea’s many dead ends: art is dead, per Ingmar Bergman (per Stangenberg, per Kluge and Khavn) and is at best the venomless skin of a departed snake, made to dance by an infestation of ants. Orphea turns to the work of the Soviet Biocosmists, who sought to overthrow death as part of the socialist struggle. Here and in an unexpectedly serious late movement on migration and refugees, the film’s subversive use of documentary and archival material activates the tradition of Godard and Marker.
If you think that meditations on the links among capitalism, art, and death are inconsistent with the specter of the radiant Stangenberg being pushed on a handcart through a Manila railyard singing cheesy Russian karaoke, Orphea will convince you otherwise. Orphea’s fast cutting rhythm, glee in greenscreen and lip-synching, and use of different film and digital mediums make clear its delight in surfaces, while its hits of unexpected pathos show that those ants in the snakeskin are putting on a hell of a show.
|Country, Year||Germany, 2020|
|Director||Alexander Kluge & Khavn|
|Writer||Alexander Kluge & Khavn, Douglas Candano|
|Cast||Lilith Stangenberg, Ian Madrigal|
|Producer||Alexander Kluge, Stephan Holl & Antoinette Köster|
|Runtime||99 MINS, SECS|