Surviving Through Art

in 47th International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film

by Lisa Kristin Strindberg

Starting out as a home-video, with happy pictures of the newly-wed, Stroke (Am seidenen Faden) deals with the existential dilemma of a loving wife who ”loses” her lover and husband in a life-threatening brain-stroke, and the sensational recovery he makes. The story is told through a realistic camera, and through dream-sequences and metaphors. The latter methods give an impressive depth of feeling to this film.

Boris Baberkoff, a cellist of Hungarian descent, is about to sign an important contract in New York. His wife, Katarina Peters, filmmaker and artist, is working on a documentary film about the American art market. After a merry evening with friends, Boris suddenly collapses, hit by a ”brain-stem stroke”. At the beginning he is ”locked in”, a prisoner of his own brain.

It is a pretty unique situation. This filmmaker, constantly carrying her camera, takes a grip of the tragedy that hits them by recording what happens to her husband, his situation in the hospital and the situation as they come back to Germany. This is Katarina Peters’ strategy for survival. Over the years that follow, a collection of images develops through her insistant camera.

The “other” story

Her problem has been to balance two stories. His and hers. Rationally, this director, who is also part of the story, has put a lot of weight on the ”happy” story of Boris. From a hopeless childlike status; having to wear diapers, shuffling too much food into his mouth, laughing childishly when questions are posed to him, to becoming well enough that he can play his cello, compose, and walk again. Occasionally these scenes of Boris in the hospital and institutions appear to be obligatory repetitions.

A yearning developes for the ”other” story. The story of Katarina’s own state of mind. Her doubts about what kind of life she is able and willing to live. But this is a story the director is reluctant to expose, not wanting to put herself in the center. She has chosen a successful solution of form, giving her story to us through dream-sequences that make a strong impact.

The dream-sequences are supported by a series of methaphorical scenes where she is sitting, knitting what turns out, in the course of the film, to be the shape of a ”brain”, in silk thread (seidenen Faden). The original title here getting its double meaning. ”Hangs by a thread” is also a metaphorical expression for something that almost went wrong. Just almost, as in this story.

Without claiming a happy ending, the film Stroke reveals in a convincing and impressive way the existential struggle of a family when fate strikes. When Boris is brought back to life through hard work, loving care and music, there is also a chance for his wife Katarina to live again.

Lisa Kristin Strindberg