Review: This Movie Is a Gift
- Anja Salomonowitz’s new documentary is a deeply personal portrait of an artist and his work, presented as a gift both to Daniel Spoerri and to the audience
Daniel Spoerri is a Swiss multidisciplinary artist best known for his work in the realm of visual arts, and as the driving force behind the New Realism, Fluxus and Eat Art movements. During his long and fruitful life (he was born in 1930 and is still alive and active), he has also written poetry, and has been a professional ballet dancer, avant-garde theatre director and experimental filmmaker. He is the principal subject of Anja Salomonowitz's latest documentary, This Movie Is a Gift, which had its festival premiere at the Viennale.
It is an unusual piece of documentary filmmaking, and this is evident right from the start. Salomonowitz is also present as one of the narrators and active characters, stating her intentions directly into the microphone. She opens the movie with the full version of Spoerri's own short film Resurrection (1969), which examines one of his life-long preoccupations, the cycle of life, but backwards.
Only after the short film, which takes up eight minutes of the total 72-minute running time, does she proceed to the opening credits and the introduction of her characters and subjects. First up is the director's own son, Oskar, who breaks the ice with a joke before taking on the roles of a narrator who recounts Spoerri's childhood memories and a student-type character interested in the artist's work. This kind of gimmick might seem tasteless, but it works well here for several reasons, one of them being Oskar's seemingly genuine interest in Spoerri's work, the technique and the logic behind it, as well as the laid-back interaction between the two in a couple of scenes later on. Another reason is Spoerri's commanding presence both when he talks about his art and when he reflects on his childhood as a secular Jewish boy in fascist Romania and as his father's unloved son, with the wisdom and the attitude of an experienced older man and a complete lack of sentimentality that complements Oskar's unforced naivety.
Salomonowitz's presence is as the active narrator explaining her motivations for making a film about Spoerri and creating it as a gift to him. In this way, she wishes to repay him for a gift he gave her, a work of art centring around an object that belonged to her recently deceased father. Both the artist-subject and the filmmaker are defined by the relationships they had with their fathers, though these are completely different in nature.
The director’s frank storytelling approach is matched precisely by the filmmaking style she goes for. The delicate and logical balance that is struck between the static and hand-held shots by Martin Putz, the straightforward but off-kilter sound design by Veronika Hlawatsch underlined by Bernhard Fleischmann's gentle score dominated by a piano over an electronic loop, and the clean jump cuts thanks to Eleonora Camizzi and Petra Zöpnek's editing make This Movie Is a Gift a pleasant watch and a worthy gift indeed, both to Daniel Spoerri and to the audience.
This Movie Is a Gift was produced by Anja Salomonowitz herself and Austria’s Virgil Widrich Film- und Multimediaproduktion. The film is already on general release in its home country, courtesy of Stadtkino Filmverleih, while Sixpack Film handles the world sales.
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