Montag kommen die Fenster
(Ulrich Khler / Germany / 2005)
Are they dead?
No, they are just sleeping.
I think they are dead.
Sometimes the beginning of a film already sums up everything that is going to follow. The first moments of Windows on Monday reveal to us the world through the eyes of a child. A hospital, patients resting in their beds, and the first line of dialogue spoken by young Charlotte. An innocent question, which is nevertheless emblematic for the whole movie.
What is it here in Germany (and its not only Germany) that gives you the impression that some of the people have become the living dead when you are walking through town? That if youd try to talk to them they would probably keep on staring while realizing that they have lost the ability to speak. Something they probably havent noticed for a long time. That I am not alone in my perception of our present-day society, can be witnessed in numerous films by a new generation of German filmmakers whose films need to be seen.
Germany 2005. A normal life, a normal couple. Nina works as a doctor, her husband seems to have quit his job. They have a bright young daughter and are building a new house. Money isnt the problem. She may be getting pregnant, though.
Some movies need a second chance. When I watched Windows on Monday for the first time at the Berlinale in 2006, I was already a firm believer in the talents of Ulrich Khler, an emerging new talent, who already startled the movie world (or the ones who were paying attention) with his first feature-film in 2002. But although assured by the mastery of Khlers direction through a couple of rewatches of his masterpiece Bungalow and his earlier student film Rakete (1999) both available on an excellent subtitled DVD from the German quality label "Filmgalerie 451" I still wasnt prepared for the impact which Windows on Monday would have on me. Its not so much the possibility that Khler has changed his style (I think he hasnt) or that I didnt like the movie. Its simply the fact that you shouldnt watch certain films when you are depressed. As the film has finally been officially released into german cinemas, I decided that my initial reaction to it needed some balance. What can I say after Ive seen it again? The second viewing not only reaffirmed the qualities of the film, but was also a pleasant experience in itself. Next time I watch a film by Ulrich Khler it will hopefully be in a relaxed frame of mind.
Although his films seem to be treading the surprise formula, the biggest surprise may be that nothing much seems to be happening. People come people go, they eat, they @#%$, they talk, and more than anything else they walk. Movement is the only constant in Khlers work, where everybody seems to be connected with everybody else, but even the characters arent able to decide what it is exactly, this unseen bond between people. In this way, Khler's cinema might be related to the mysteries of Jacques Rivette. The relations between people are the focus of the films, as well as the search for meaning in their lifes. The characters arent able to figure out what they want. Having only a vague idea of their dislikes they practice rebellion. But a rebellion that seems to be related more against the self. There is the sense of being trapped in something one doesnt understand, and the world has become unfamiliar as the usual strategies of perception seem to lose their absoluteness.
What if we dont follow the rules anymore, what if we choose to ignore the structures of society? What if? Khler isnt interested in revolutions. His protagonists acts seem more as a reworking of a situation, opening up a parallel world because of an extra step which has been taken. When Nina leaves her family she simply does it. There are no grand gestures, no dramatic scenes in the usual sense. The spilling of blood happens between the images. Whats left is silence. Its hard to decipher emotions when a face appears motionless, the body only functioning in its basic routine. Still, there are moments when you notice a change, a slight adjustement to each singular situation. With the beginning of Khlers films, the movement has begun.
The camera keeps following the characters, observing them, and showing us what they are observing in return. But an explanation isnt given. Another act of rebellion, this time from the filmmaker himself. Ulrich Khler avoids simple explanations. His cinema is rational in the best sense, as he doesnt pretend to know more about the characters than they do themselves. As such, it is up to the viewer to decide - if he wants to decide at all that is.
If we ask what reality is, Khler maybe answers that it is something which happens and which we can change through our actions. But can we change ourselves? When the Windows arrive, they are the wrong ones. And as our characters follow a funeral, the question remains.
Death is not a solution.