The Fifth Gospel of Kaspar Hauser

in 42nd Rotterdam International Film Festival

by Diego Lerer

Alberto Gracia’s first film is a radically original examination of the myth of Kaspar Hauser to the point that there’s no actual Kaspar Hauser in the film. This mysterious character — a teenager who appeared in Nurenberg in 1828 apparently having lived a life in complete isolation, not having any language skills — serves as the skewed narrator of a non-existing tale, his own.

You might think the eyes of Kaspar are the camera through which we see the film, the eyes telling this “story”. And we, as an audience, are forced to see the world as he does, beyond the language barrier, with no capacity to discern the relationship between subjects, objects and the real world. The non-linear, subjective and impressionistic style of the film is meant to be a call for a spectator who can absorb the images of the film without the constraints of psychological interpretation or narrative logic. A dream-like state, if you will.

Gracia, a visual artist making his film debut, shot Kaspar Hauser in 16mm, and his elusive but powerful black-and-white images strike the viewer as something coming from a far-away land and an imprecise time. A barn, a few horses, a man disguised as Batman, another one dressed as a sailor, conversations leading to nowhere: that’s the world we live in during the short 61 minutes of the film.

An immersive experience that purposely defies interpretation, Gracia’s film might use some of the clichés and tropes of experimental filmmaking (disorienting editing, jarring camera movements, dissonant use of music) but they never feel forced or out of touch with what he’s trying to convey: the confusion of being part of a world we can’t rationalize or put into words.

The “Kaspar myth” is here a concept, a canvas in which the viewer can project his own worldview and interpretation. There’s a religious aspect to this “tale” that’s evident in the title but –apart from this strange group of characters that might resemble some kind of apostles — that idea never comes completely to the forefront in the film. In a way, the “according” part of the title is the most important here, the idea of the world as being always a tale told by someone who might interpret things in ways radically different than ours.

And that’s also a way to relate to cinema since film can also be seen as a “gospel according to”, as a way to observe the mysteries and miracles of the world beyond the borders of language.

Edited by Carmen Gray