Directed by Nikolaus Geyrhalter
A doc-essay nocturne set to the white-noise hum of heavy machinery and institutional lighting, Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Abendland peers in on Europe’s graveyard shift. The Austrian filmmaker hails from the no-explanatory-anything school, and here he privileges no-man’s-land locations, but the film quickly establishes its scope as continental. A member of a European Parliament subcommittee worries aloud, in French, about the “spread of militarization”; a mail sorter examines package destinations at one stage of a vast assembly line; polizei in training confront hostile-situation scenarios on a green-screen simulator. Abendland (from a German word for the Occident, or “evening land”) duly records instances of recording: A man remotely operates CCTV cameras with a joystick, and a woman goes through the motions while filming a no-frills phone-sex ad.
One of the world’s preeminent documentarians, Geyrhalter (here collaborating with editor Wolfgang Widerhofer, also credited with the “dramatic structure”) picks up a number of his long-haul concerns. Abendland often resembles the filmmaker’s best-known work stateside, the industrial-food-production doc Our Daily Bread, in its stealthily alarming/droll observation of the perfunctory human interface with specialized mechanical equipment. In a sense, Abendland also picks up right where his 2008 feature 7915 KM, which follows in the tracks of an off-road rally through northwestern Africa, left off: At that film’s conclusion, Italian immigration officials spotted a boatful of Senegalese refugees from the air.
The opening and penultimate scenes of Abendland observe routine border-patrol surveillance, bookending not only the depersonalizing effects of the technologies employed by the industries that never sleep, but also what amounts to a thumbnail-sketch overview of cradle-to-grave caretaking (we visit a postnatal unit, a senior-care facility, and a high-tech crematorium, in that order). The cumulative effect of these far-ranging scenes of nighttime labor is stunning, not to mention disquieting: Europe here appears to be in the systematic process of vacuum-sealing itself off, streamlining itself from within while exerting ever tighter control on the traffic coming in from without.
Opens July 27 at Anthology Film Archives