• Flash Competition



Antoinette Zwirchmayr

“And when people ask me: ‘How was it, then?’, I say ‘Nothing’”. The woman who utters this sentence, motionless in front of the camera, starts climbing the steps of a staircase, soon joined by another woman, then a third. Eventually, six women and one man, all dressed in the same white tunic, climb up and down the stairs that lead nowhere: bare, geometric elements of the set, spread throughout the huge, equally bare and geometric interior space of a modern industrial architecture. At times, the bodies come to a halt, in turns, then start going up or down the stairs again with the same solemn, rhythmic pace. Land ohne Worte is the cinematic translation of a text by German playwright Dea Loher: a woman painter meditates on her art, on art and its history, and more specifically on the possibilities and impossibilities for art to represent the reality of a violent, war-torn world. Originally a first-person monologue, here the text is shared out among seven performers, who take turns reciting it. This principle of fragmentation and multiplication affects all the elements of the film: the character is divided into seven bodies, faces and voices; the set elements; directing and cutting, subject to an infinite variation of viewpoints and shot scales. Which art? Why art? What to paint? Redoing Hockney with crippled bodies? Knives appear in hands or stuck into stairs: to skin the bodies, to self-harm, to tear up canvases? Words endlessly unfolding the same concern, a land without words: what this dense, austere, impressive film questions is the very possibility of describing, naming, representing the reality of a world where “every recognizable thing disappears.” Antoinette Zwirchmayr has created nothing less than a contemporary version of Piranesi’ Imaginary prisons. Prisons described by Marguerite Yourcenar as “a world that is fake and yet eerily real, claustrophobic and yet megalomaniac, reminiscent of the one to which modern humanity confines itself more and more each day…” Here we are.

Cyril Neyrat

More than an adaptation, Land without words is a translation into cinema of a play by German playwright Dea Loher. What attracted you to this text? What motivated the project to translate it into film?

I’ve been interested in theater for a long time. At times, theater has fascinated me more than cinema. It was a logical consequence to combine the two. I often read theater texts without seeing the plays – I read plays as if they were scripts. The staging of the actresses in my films is rather static than realistic – more related to theater than to cinema. I prefer an abstract, more enraptured kind of acting and staging.

The dense text questions the necessity and possibilities of art in an increasingly violent world. Only rare signs betray this violence, in a space dominated by the perpetual, calm and monotonous movement of the characters. Can you comment on this contrast, and on your general commitment to abstraction and non-figuration?

The room in which “Land ohne Words” is set is a former tank factory. Although nothing can be seen of it anymore, I thought that something invisible remains in the air.

One of your main decisions was to transform the original monologue into a choral text, distributed among 6 women and one man. Why this choice? How did you compose this group, choosing actors, faces and voices almost exclusively female?

The original text is a monodrama, written for one main character. I wanted to show the inner conflict by splitting the character into many. In the film, all 7 characters play the same role – they are all one. The formation of the ensemble is always very organic. I’ve worked with some actresses before, some were recommended to me and some I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. I believe in encounters – the right people come into conversation at the right time and are also available at the time of shooting.

The theatrical origins of this work can be seen mainly in the extreme stylization of the decor and costumes. Stairs and pedestals as if taken from temples or altars, costumes that give the actors and actresses the appearance of priests or priestesses of an unknown cult. Can you shed some light on these choices?

The stairs that lead nowhere. The constant climbing up and down stands for the circles of thought in which the figure is stuck – the circling around oneself. The white linen clothes stand for the empty images. The painter who can no longer paint paintings – the canvas remains white.

The continuity of the recitation is matched by the extreme fragmentation of the film, through a découpage that multiplies points of view, and an editing that constantly plays with variations in distance and presence, between in-field and out-of-field. How did you go about staging the film, and what was at stake in its fragmentation?

I think all my films are very fragmentary. I never have the claim that a film has to be understandable or entertaining. I appreciate it when films are bulky, ambiguous and complicated.

Land without words: the title is strong and enigmatic. Can you share your own interpretation?

For me, the title stands for the speechlessness that arises when you think about the current state of the world in relation to violence, but also in relation to the ecological developments.

Interview by Cyril Neyrat

  • Flash Competition
14:0027 June 2024La Baleine
09:3028 June 2024La Baleine
16:1529 June 2024Artplexe 2

Technical sheet

Austria / 2024 / Colour / 37'

Original version: German, No Dialogue
Subtitles: English, French
Script: Dea Loher
Photography: Leena Koppe
Editing: Lisa Truttmann
Music: Ursula Winterauer
Sound: Vinzenz Schwab
Cast: Edita Malovčić, Veronika Glatzner, Julia Franz-Richter, Salka Weber, Nina Fog, Daniela Kong, Theo Krausz

Production: Klara Pollak (Open End Production)
Contact: Antoinette Zwirchmayr

Dear Darkness/ 2022/ 30min
Along the bodies/ 2022/ 24min
At the edge of the curtain/ 2022/ 10min
Oceano Mare/ 2020/ 7min
The seismic form/ 2020/ 15min
What I remember/ 2017/ 64min
Venus Delta/ 2016/ 4min
House and Universe/ 2025/ 4min