Among many audacious experiments and epics, few films have attempted to go for broke by taking on the entire history and trajectory of Western culture. For doing just that The Ister should be commended, even if such praise isn’t so easily evoked in its purely academic approach and refusal of cinematic immediacy. Taking as its starting point Heidegger’s lectures on Friedrich Hölderlin’s Danube-inspired poem, filmmakers Barison and Ross weave an intricate narrative (as they literally follow the river) that thematically encompasses technology, memory, ethics, transformation, society, mortality, genocide, and their effects on Western culture — in particular that of Europe, more specifically Germany. Various strands involve interviews with philosophers Bernard Stiegler, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, and meditations on the Serbian invasion of Croatia, the entrance of Hungary into the European Union, and the ruins of Yugoslavia. While visually stagnant The Ister actually makes its three hours of heavy, humorless intellectual lifting stimulating enough to impart knowledge. Be open and in the mood for some glacially forming dialectics and you’ll come away as haunted by civilization’s legacies and burdens as the filmmakers must have been on their journey.