Beginning with an extraordinary scene of starling murmuration across a green and purple landscape, editor Monika Willi creates a sense of liberty and wild unpredictability in her ambitious crafting of Untitled – a film realised out of raw footage captured by Swedish filmmaker Michael Glawogger before he tragically died from a rare strain of Malaria in April 2014. Glawogger’s voice overlays the fleeting avian movements: “The most beautiful film I could imagine is one which would never come to rest.” Yet, his film was to be posthumously completed by Willi, his long-term collaborator.
The creation remains true to the spirit of the project, which was intended to develop over a year while Glawogger traversed the globe in search of “nothing” and everything simultaneously. To this end, Willi presents his work as an impartial compendium of his observations that become a remarkable requiem to Glawogger’s spiritedness.
The director’s preoccupation with making an agenda-free film relieved him of narrative constraints. However, the concept of freedom seems to underpin the film; there was no place or situation Glawogger would not venture. In one scene, Glawogger describes an instance of a dog in danger of falling as it hangs over the edge of a window. He asserts, “The death of freedom is to foresee every possible disaster and plan accordingly. Fear is a terrible companion.” Glawogger maintains that if the dog had the freedom to fall, he would fall happily. This access to freedom is inextricably linked to the filmmaker’s risk-taking as an analogy that may be extended to his untimely passing in pursuit of this passion project.
Over the months of travelling, Glawogger was able to explore the Balkans, Italy, Northwest and West Africa. A challenging relationship is set up between what the viewer sees and the reception of the different locales, as they ceaselessly change with neither geographical specifications nor narrative concerns. This emphatically makes Untitled a film about travel and movement. There are several times at the start of a location change when we are introduced to different modes of travel. Most notably: Tuaregs on a desert train, a man on an overloaded donkey and a young boy on a skateboard riding the streets of Sierra Leone at night. There is a simultaneous sense of urgency and aimlessness in these moments; there is a desperation to survive, even though people’s lives are utterly compromised by poverty, remoteness and a lack of resources.
Several scenes indicate the overuse and mistreatment of animals, whilst people depend on them for work. A particularly disturbing scene cuts to a dusty open square filled with donkeys. They are rendered immobile as one of their legs is tied to a metal rod nailed into the ground forcing them to stand for hours without water under the blazing sun until they are presumably put to work. Some of them fight; others mount each other, while one mange-ridden donkey cries out in discomfort. A voiceover suggests, “a donkey’s braying always sounds like a lament.” Such a cry could not be mistaken and this offers a moment to grieve over the many instances of brutality witnessed in the film. Another scene signaling a plea to humanity occurs when a father and son wander through a war-torn village. Building facades are riddled with bullets, which represent scars that no one has bothered to heal in 20 years.
The film follows a mercurial path until the end, as further suffering is contrasted with a few occasions of genuine compassion and kindness. One instance shows a man lovingly petting a large black dog as the two tenderly embrace. Yet, as quickly as that occurs, we see a group of men tirelessly restraining an animal to be used for its parts, whereafter the remains are mounted to a pole on a car as though it were a warning signal. The film cuts to a mountain ablaze until eventually the flames die out and the mountain is left smouldering. Heightened by the film’s score by Wolfgang Mitterer, which at once becomes operatic without being overbearing – this feels climactic – whilst at the same time allows you to consider the new life that will be generated by the germination after the fire.
In the final moments, we encounter two kinds of nurture. The one voyeuristically gazes through a window at Christmas time; a family are helping one another set the table. It is worth considering the direct and tactile contact the camera has previously had with the action, and yet, in this moment the glass barrier limits its access. The second kind of nurture sees a man sheltering two baby goats from a strong wind, as their mother struggles to protect them. This portrayal suggests an urgent need for society to more generously extend compassion towards the ‘other’. Untitled is a tremendous odyssey film that invites you to experience rarely observed aspects of acute human behaviour.
Untitled will be screening in the UK as part of the London Film Festival in October 2017. For more information please check https://whatson.bfi.org.uk