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Music (2023): Berlin Film Festival Review

A sudden event has far-reaching consequences in Music, this challenging, uneven, and downright confusing Oedipal tragedy.

Clouds slowly envelop the screen in the opening shot of Music. Before long, our view of the Greek landscape is completely obstructed, with a sudden noise of thunder coming like a crack of terror. Unfortunately, this initial intrigue and fatalistic foreboding doesn’t last long in Angela Schanelec’s (I Was at Home, But) monotonously austere film, which has the myth of Oedipus as its driving force. Schanalec invites us to interpret the subsequent events onscreen however we may want, and the ambiguous, freeform vision she gives us is an attractive proposition, but Music’s eventual downfall as a piece of cinema comes in its overarching tedium.

Over the course of Music, we move from the mountainous landscapes of Greece to the urban streets of Berlin. At the centre of the narrative is Ion (Aliocha Schneider, Pompei) who, after spending time in prison for committing manslaughter, begins a relationship and has a child with one of the prison officers, Iro (Agathe Bonitzer, Coming Home). True to Music’s nature, all is not quite as it seems, with layers upon layers of unknowns bubbling to the surface over time. Chances are you’ll have to read a plot synopsis after watching Music; the mysteries that become apparent are, in fact, far from apparent.

At first, the slow burn, considered style of Music works well. Its visuals evoke a sense of unease and hint at secrets; dramatic events are filmed from afar or in close-ups that cut off characters and objects. These techniques make us unsure of what we are seeing, infusing a great enigmatic tone. Schanelec places great value on visual language.

Eventually, this languorous observational style becomes maddening. It is a trait compounded by the actors who, to be fair to them, are given little to work with. Music is minimalist in terms of dialogue, but the actors seem to take this as an invitation to be constantly po-faced and sullen. Schneider’s Ion, in particular, walks with the pace of a snail, drifting through scenes with the same languidness as Johannes from Ordet (1955).

loud and clear reviews Music 2023 berlin film festival berlinale
A still from Music, an official selection at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival. (© faktura film / Shellac / Berlinale)

When executed right, slow cinema such as this can work wonders in terms of drawing out challenging evocation, but Music quite quickly takes on next to no meaning. Scenes become protracted for little reason, to the point of frustration. There is some intrigue in this carefully woven tapestry of characters, as well as in the themes of fate and mortality. Death seems to follow the characters everywhere, with everyone in the film looking upon such events with a resigned detachment. Despite this, it becomes very difficult to find depth in something so lacking. Music’s descent into dullness diminishes it of the sordid cruelty of the myth upon which it is based, which makes the disappearance of its initial intrigue and atmosphere that much more frustrating.

Music premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on February 21-26, 2023. Read our Berlin Film Festival reviews!

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