Cries and Whispers
Ludwig Wüst's DEPARTURE towards the last things

Gary Vanisian

In the beginning, there is a cry, an enduring, angry cry thrust against the flogging rumbling of a train. It arises from the depths of an irrepressible breast and plays out as the first powerful tonal apex of Ludwig Wüst's newest film, Aufbruch (Departure), which sets out on a "filmic journey towards the last things" (Ludwig Wüst) that will last for 102 minutes. And "last things" in this sense are just as much first things: the elementary feelings of life (grief, hope, loving, losing), presented in a visual language which constructs a synesthetic bridge between a quiet farewell symphony and Japanese haiku, loud and shimmering.

Once the man, dressed in a blue jumpsuit and standing with the back to the camera, has catapulted his whirlwind of feelings into the wind, his body begins to direct itself towards a change, too. The film's last part deciphers vaguely what made him leave his previous life behind and take his little, droll car (a lovely wink to the usually far mightier vehicles used in road movies) to embark on a ride into the width of the country. And one just starts floating together with him, why should one ask about the “Why?”, since the quest itself is so fascinating.

Soon an elderly woman joins him - her first appearance, while still on her own, shows her reading and translating Russian poetry - one of cinema's most rarely seen activities. Thus, each new scene unfolds a certain facet of the characters, just like (à propos) a Matryoshka.

Both impulsive runaways blend into each other and form a united impulse. The woman and the man, as different as they may be, show us a minimalist, but still abundant diorama of humanity.

Furthermore, Departure is a film of incredible physicalness: one sees hands at work (carpentering), arms working themselves into the ground (painting a wall), shoulders rowing, lips whispering, murmuring. The brilliant DoP Klemens Koscher achieves closeness in a distant glance and vice versa. His outstanding sensitiveness for light and ambiances shows itself in the development of the film's color palette - starting off with blueish, colder hues and slowly shifting into warmer, brighter ones.

Such immensely physical-haptic images require actors who fully merge with their characters, embodythem. Often, yet not always, a strong personal touch is created once a director plays the main role in his own film: the foremost examples in German cinema are Peter Lorre's desperate rendition of the principal character in Der Verlorene and the many main roles played by Rainer Werner Fassbinder; in current international cinema, Cristi Puiu (in Aurora) and possibly also Mathieu Amalric (in Barbara) could be considered directors-actors whose bodily performance, figure and brilliantly rhythmical slowness is reminiscent of Ludwig Wüst's acting in DEPARTURE. Besides crying and working, he adds another powerful momentum to his character – his way of talking, an amalgam of Franconian, Viennese and German baroque, blended into an artificial language whose every sentence rises up from the depths of silence. This films is the second feature film debut of Wüst, namely as an actor, 15 years after his first direction, though it should have been otherwise, since he is a studied actor and singer, not a director.

Claudia Martini, playing the leading female role, can already be considered one of Wüst's regular actors. Very much like some of Ozu's unforgettably fragile dames she often, especially in the beginning of the film, seems humble and almost dissolving, but touching all the more and so full of unsaid and unfelt things that one single film couldn't possibly tell them to the full.

Both characters' journey terminates at an almost mystical and yet very present space, after having crossed the waters and followed railway tracks. They arrive at a terminus and turning point. Their parting from each other is tender and cruel and takes all the time in the world: “We have all the time in the world/Every step of the way will find us/With the cares of the world far behind us." There is no time anymore to be counted.

The last (and first) things of Departure - they make it possible to loose oneself, then find and think oneself anew.