- In his new work, Thomas Imbach shows off his chameleon-like ability to move between fiction and the most experimental form of documentary with style and apparent ease
Presented in a world premiere within the Visions du Réel Festival’s International Competition, Nemesis [+see also:
film profile], the latest film by Swiss director Thomas Imbach, challenges the viewer’s ability to establish links between seemingly disparate elements, which all fall, nonetheless, within the same line of vision: that of the director, who examines reality from his workshop window.
Nemesis is the product of seven years spent tireless observing from a particular vantage point, directly opposite the enormous building site set up to demolish Zurich’s historic train station, which is being sacrificed in order to build a new prison housing 300 prisoners (70% of whom are foreigners), as well as a new police station. It’s a real act of “architectural vandalism”, as the director describes it, which gives rise to a strange and insidious nostalgia within him, which in turn inspires him to look back on his family history. The film was born out of a spoken determination, as expressed during a New Year’s Eve fireworks display, to “not allow the past to be destroyed” (as is happening with the city’s historic station) in the name of an ever-more merciless form of progress.
Although a similarly compulsive and systematic style of observation already gave rise to a Thomas Imbach film back in 2011 - Day Is Done [+see also:
film profile] - this time, his experimentation seems to go even further, combining narration and formal research in a particularly original fashion. If, in the first instance, the protagonists in Nemesis seem to be the hungry bulldozers which devour the station’s skeleton to the almost animalesque sound of jaws opening, clashing with the story of the director’s family history (narrated via voice-over by Milan Peschel), the former gradually make room for another tale (whose similarities with the first are no coincidence). The bulldozers, cranes and bodies shot from a distance by supporters of the new project are replaced by the more legitimate figures of animals (most notably a fox) who reclaim the empty space, and those of the many site workers. Accompanying these images are the harrowing, violent backstories of illegal immigrants awaiting expulsion from Switzerland. For the director, the old station’s metamorphosis becomes a personal reflection on his own past, but also on the future of his nation: ultra-safe and increasingly uniform.
The images (in 35 mm) shot from the window of the director’s workshop – from afar, from up-close or from very up-close (captured with the telephoto lens); in slow motion, in fast motion or in reverse – reveal what’s hidden beneath the frenzy of daily life: a couple lost in the attraction that bind’s them together, the performative elegance of the bulldozers’ jaws, the fleeting appearance of nature right in the middle of the city, fireworks exploding in the dark of the night… Accompanied by Milan Peschel’s narration and various musical extracts (jazz, pop, rock) which appear as if by magic, it all acquires a new meaning, causing the past and present to collide with ever greater force: the memory of the station that has now disappeared, that of the director’s family and the timeless recollection of the workers on the building site clashing with the new memories of trendy gatherings in the district, coexisting alongside the desperation of refugee stories.
Nemesis is a work which successfully injects emotion and discourse into experimentation, side-stepping the sterility which might otherwise have afflicted it.
(Translated from Italian)
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