the first few minutes of this film are really rather banal. you see many more or less mediocre, silent images of east germany and later poland, as the film advances further and further to the east, from late summer to deep winter, just filming, no commentary, no aim or end in mind.
i asked myself again and again while watching, why akerman would show these banal beginning images of random streets, neither particularly beautiful, nor with any striking features. but then i understood that the film needed these images to pave the way for what was yet to come and allow to become visible, what was yet to appear. like the fundament of a building or the first banal steps of a journey. the film´s rythm clearly doesn´t subordinate itself to cinematic dramaturgies but to the rhythm of an unprejudiced, lost drifter, who is hooked to voyeuristic, appropriating observations, without the desire to make any concrete sense of them.
the audience in the cinema was so nervous and uncomfortable, it almost felt delicious. everyone was caughing and moving around. the film was so quiet and insisting. indeed insisting on the mediocrity of these first images, which did eventually make them grand. almost like the water lilies of monet would be nothing, if they were just one picture, but because monet really insists, existentially insists, on these water lilies, through all the seasons and years and even while going blind, these water lilies do obtain an existential aura of some kind of truth of sentiment and perception.
the greatest pictures of d´est are clearly those in the very far east of waiting people at bus stations, in waiting halls and in their homes. filmed mostly in very gloomy and somber light, the camera sovereignly passes by these people in long tracking shots, that often go in circles and repeat themselves again and again, or in the case of the the home shots remain motionless, just blankly looking.
it´s sheerly mesmerizing how akerman appropriates the faces of the people she regards, who are obviously real people, really waiting in these places, and the way they look back, almost like statues, without giving in to the power of akerman´s regard and even commenting her action and making jokes, but without moving and completey allowing her to look and take their picture.
some look sceptical, one or two throughout the film hide their face behind their hands, but most of them just stand their like objets trouvés, almost as if they were staged but nonetheless ignorant of their pitoresque physiognomies which akerman elevates to bodies of art.
it is staggering how she moves through places and looks at people with such commanding and confident self-evidence and how none of the regarded subjects are intimidated by her colonizing and subjectifying recording machine, but remain careless like silent paintings in a museum.
i had to think about how most films in history have been fascinated by going south or west or north, but almost no journeys ever went to the eastern bloc. maybe because people thought there was simply nothing to film. no beaches, no exotic people, no nanooks, no great flora and fauna, no indians. but precisely this considered aesthetical nothing is so rich and telling. akerman´s aesthetical means are those of poverty and reflection. she observes from the perspective of someone without money, solely with the pure desire to look and captivate.
i had to think about how i used to walk through paris when i still lived there, with no money at all and couldn´t afford to go to cafés or bars or museums, so i´d just walk through the strangest, lost and somehow forgotten, "invisible" places that know no image of themselves and exist unphotographed, but real. i saw all kinds of awkward, maghrebian markets, crowds of people waiting for soup from a car by a cemetary, empty, gloomy streets in the suburbs, old people hanging around in nowheres in parking areas and church squares with nothing to do, just waiting and looking, like myself. none of these images belonged to the collective and ideological images of paris, its cinematic and romantic representations.
it was a completely parallel, aesthetical universe. lonely and bizarre and broken and ignored and beautiful.
it´s what you see, when you drift, walk, when you don´t know what to do and what to think and when you don´t have a dime, but time.
this is a grand, grand film and akerman is a light in the night of cinema.