A Touch of Poetry

in 64th International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg

by Peter Kremski

Some of the films shown at this year’s festival were undeniably poetic. The two most outstanding were the Dutch film 12 Months in a Day (Eeen dag in ‘t jaar) by Margot Schaap and the French film Stubborn (Une histoire américaine) by Armel Hostiou. Both were, naturally, films about love. The possibility and impossibility of love lend themselves to poetry, since poetry often deals with unfulfilled love.

Stubborn tells a classic story of amour fou. A French lover follows a woman he had an affair with in Paris to her home town of New York. He is convinced that she is the woman of his life and wants to be with her forever. But for the woman, it was just an affair and this clingy man gets on her nerves. The situation is complicated by the fact that she is already in love with another man in New York. She rejects him outright, but this does not keep him from harassing her all the time, making a fool out of himself. His yearning has become an obsession.

During his stay he encounters other women – a Danish girl, also a stranger to the city, who starts accompanying him on his foolish odyssey. She is a possible new love, and she would like to stay with him forever and a day. But her clinginess gets on his nerves – he feels harassed and insults her to get the message across. He is full of self-pity; having been rejected in his love and suffering without end, he is unaware of the pain he causes others.

This man is a fool for love. There is a kind of truth in his stupid behavior. Some might find this character funny, but some will also dislike and even detest him in the end. All the women in the film are much more appealing. This tragedy of a ridiculous man works as a kind of melancholy comedy. The story is masterfully told, and the odyssey through New York is shown in splendid images. The camerawork and the editing are brilliant. Stubborn was one of the most intense films of the festival, but it was not lucky enough to win a prize.

12 Months in a Day, which did receive the FIPRESCI Prize, also tells the story of a man caught between two women. All three are in their mid-twenties. The man has had a love affair with one of the women, which ended due to differing expectations. He considers finding a new love with the other young woman, who was in love with his late best friend. This friend was the brother of the first woman, who now secretly hopes to win her lost lover back. Thus the three main characters are friends, bound together by a fourth who is deceased.

They stroll through Amsterdam on New Year’s Eve. The strolling goes on and on. In the end, it is New Year’s Eve again – but the following one. A year of strolling has passed, although to our eyes it was only one day. None of the characters’ expectations have come to pass – they are all still just friends. Their concepts of life and love are too different.

This film is a very subtle and beautiful poem. The “day” that we see encompasses all the seasons, starting and ending with winter. Morning corresponds to spring, midday to summer, evening to fall, and night to winter. The film was shot over the period of one year, but on just one day per month, making a shooting schedule of twelve days.

We accompany the friends through spring, summer and fall, and then lose them on the next New Year’s Eve. At that point we meet a lot of other young people, still unknown to us. Is there a relationship between them? Perhaps a hidden story could be told, similar to the one we just saw. Is there the possibility of love? That’s the essential question of all poetry.

Edited by Lesley Chow