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Review: Zone


- Christina Friedrich asks the viewer to go with the flow and get carried away by images, rather than look for any meaning in her film, which has more of a performative focus than a narrative one

Review: Zone

Multidisciplinary artist Christina Friedrich warned the audience before the most recent screening of her second feature, Zone [+see also:
interview: Christina Friedrich
film profile
, at the German Film Fest. Madrid: “It’s best if you just immerse yourself in the images like you would bathe in a river, rather than trying to decipher their meaning.” Even so, not all of the viewers embraced this daring gamble by the German director, which was world-premiered in the Harbour section of the most recent IFFR. Indeed, the trickle of walk-outs from the theatre became an awkward reality as the film unspooled, even though a group of hardcore stalwarts not only persevered until the end of the screening, but even applauded and enjoyed the subsequent chat with the German helmer.

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Because it’s true that Zone is not a film with a mainstream heart. It exists in a realm that’s part of another dimension, one which marries film, theatre and the performing arts: it consists of a succession of scenes in which the actors use their bodies freely in natural and artificial surroundings while dancing, shouting, crying, eating or embracing one another. We could equally have seen many of these performances projected onto the walls of a modern art museum. When chained together, they engender a feature of an excessive 131-minute running time that demands us to be patient, curious and to disregard the part of our brains that’s tirelessly looking for the meaning of life and what we encounter within it.

As such, the storyline of Zone is also too vague to summarise, but let’s give it a go anyway: it’s something akin to the dreamlike journey of a young woman who escapes from a detention centre and is confronted by a variety of situations, characters and emotional states. Let’s say that it’s a road movie without a road or even any cars. It’s a trippy, frenzied and uninhibited coming-of-age tale, a German Alice in a wonderland of festering nightmares.

Based on the novel Keller, which was written by the filmmaker herself in 2021, the film is gradually built up like a poem or a prayer, brimming with pain, madness and rage, which – with its political message denouncing the military aspirations of 20th-century Germany – blends fantasy, dreams and homages to cinema and literature (from the films of the Soviet Union – the shadow of Andrei Tarkovsky looms large – to Bertolt Brecht), but it’s all told from an abstract and anti-naturalist standpoint that’s closer to circus than to a classical cinematic narrative.

Yet despite this, some moments in the film manage to bewitch us with their extreme oddness, especially those which take place in a mournful, sombre landscape, bristling with death and painful memories of a terrible past, with an ending that shines a slight glimmer of light and hope on its anguished characters.

Zone is a production by the director herself via Madonnenwerk, in collaboration with The Post Republic.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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