There’s maybe a larger point made in the way that the internet circulates death. The day that Chantal Akerman died inspired reactions of surprise at how suddenly this tragedy occurred, sadness that her passing left such a large gap in the number of canonised female directors who could lend their voices to the next generation along with anger that her suicide was spurred from an industry unwilling to support her when she needed it most. Months later the French auteurist Jacques Rivette would pass on after a documented struggle with Alzeimers in later life and three weeks after that it was made public that Andrezj Zulawski was in the final stages of cancer only to day a day later. These reactions inspired the same form of contemplation of death that most of the greats get, remembering their best achievements and the legacy they left behind. I bring this up to make a point of how quickly information spreads in Web 2.0. These director's bodies and many more like them weren’t even cold by the time tributes and declarations were made about their lives from those more privy than others. In the span of just minutes after bereavement the messages left behind on whatever social media platform you can choose could inform you of their lives’ work faster than any dedicated book that exists on them.
It took me 15 minutes to find out the above people had passed after news was public.
It took 22 hours to find out from an off-hand tweet by a friend that my favourite living auteur and the inspiration for my single biggest artistic endeavour had died, unappreciated, unexamined and unknown to many in the social circles I’ve become entwinned with.
I don’t blame any of them for this, Muratova’s work is mostly undistributed in the west outside of sporadic festival screenings and badly transferred DVD’s (or torrents if you like going to jail) but it speaks to a failure of the wider world that the litany of masterpiece’s she made will now have to appreciate after her lifetime and not during it. Common wisdom posits The Asthenic Syndrome as her masterpiece. Having seen fifteen of the twenty-one released films, I mostly agree with this! Even in her slightest of films a very deliberate tone is struck regardless of content. Delicately composed shots are matched with avant garde blocking during the most mundane of situations, the old world clashing with the new. The Asthenic Syndrome weaved this in her most accessible manor (as me and Mitchell discussed here ). The formality of Brief Encounters & Long Farewell that anchors her roots in the early soviet dramas fulcrums into the fantasy realms that Passions & Melody Of A Street Organ explore. At times she would look back on her life as Chekov Motif’s represents her own nostalgia for a pre-soviet era while self-critiquing just how much life would be different or it turns into pure indulgence like Two In One’s Brechtian imagery (look at these shots and tell me how the wider world managed to dismiss this as a “minor” work) or she would flash forward in Getting To Know The Big Wide World imagining a post work landscape and how the human follies of patriarchal family units or general absurdism overpower any optimistic vision of the future. In two and a half hours The Asthenic Syndrome does all of what applies to these previous films and more and it would be the zenith of her entire career… had she not released an even more incredible film in 2012: the accumulation of six decades of directing and the best film I’ve seen all year.
Eternal Homecoming’s takes the synthesis that asthenic experimented with and turns it into the structure. Muratova plays with the rose tinted glasses she joking alludes to in previous work and focuses on looking backwards through history with her unique viewpoint. Her previous works operated under the assumption that both a past and a future exists however due to her own conditions (something eerily predicted in Asthenic) and the death of son during filmmaking, this is the first time that the end of her career would be on her own terms. In this psyche, a form is created: A man visits a woman he went to school with asking if he should try and find a wife or a mistress. The scene repeats itself ad infinitum with a variety of actors (It’s incredible how Muratova manages to develop fully characterised out people in matter of single scenes) as the films artifice exposes itself. Comparisons to other Matryoshka films like The Saragossa Manuscript and The Forbidden Room are welcome but the lack of acknowledgement until the incredible final punchline of her whole career sustains a mystery not present in many of her previous films (or many of anyone else’s films for that matter). Yet for all her attention to mise-en-scene and how actors are placed within the scene she remains a conscious observer. The camera is rarely static as Muratova chooses to briskly observe these people’s lives recreated in an apartment block, lazily wandering around trying to make sense of these broad archetypes housed in human flesh (The woman are independent and emotionally intelligent, the men are larger than life characters whose personalities are just bizarre enough to be realistic, sharing only a black fedora between each variation (GEE, I WONDER WHAT THIS COULD POSSIBLY MEAN???)).
I’m hesitant to say how exactly the film unfurls after the first third. If you are familiar with the twist in Asthenic and have seen the Godard film Contempt then it should be familiar yet the way that she twists this to reflect the conditions of directing that have plagued her for over half a century as an inherent problem with the medium and not one formed by any distinct overseer is something rarely replicated and one I do not wish to give away or bastardise in an uninformed interpretation. Like many of my favourite films that pride themselves on impenetrability (Cuadecuc Vampir and Last Year At Marienbad), Eternal Homecoming works regardless of how much you know about the conditions that created it. To most, it’s two hours of mesmerising camera movements cementing Muratova as the true successor to Ophuls’s throne under a unique story structure with great acting and a delight from start to finish that continues to reveal secrets the longer you think about it. These movies are rare and in a body of work filled of undiscovered gems (Melody Of A Street Organ is the greatest Christmas film ever) Eternal Homecoming is a masterpiece above other masterpieces.
RIP Kira Muratova. The majority of the western cinema canon may have forgotten your work but I haven’t.