The Council of Birds (Zerrumpelt Herz)
Director: Timm Kröger, colour, 80 min., 2013/14
1929: The music teacher Paul receives a letter from his old friend and fellow student Otto, who, in the meantime, has become a notable composer. After his marriage failed, he retreated to a secluded cabin in the forest. Now he wants Paul to come visit him. When Paul, his wife Anna and his friend Willi arrive, Otto is nowhere to be found. The first search bears no results. The missing Otto suddenly shows up, doesn’t say a word, sleeps with Anna and then disappears again. Paul believes to have traced his old friend to an island, but he remains missing. THE COUNCIL OF BIRDS is a still, poetic film, which plays a fascinating, yet not always clear game, by using themes such as “the forest”, “genius and madness” and “art and nature”.
The letter with which Otto invited his old friend Paul to come and visit him at his secluded cabin in the middle of the forest in 1929 bears signs of arrogance. The young composer curses Hindemith’s “functional music” and Kurt Weill’s “negro music”. Since Otto’s new symphony is awaited in America, he wants to show it to his former classmate at all costs. When Paul, his wife Anna and their mutual friend Willi arrive at the cabin after a long march through the woods, Otto is nowhere to be found. They are welcomed at the cabin by a dog tied with a leash. Disorder and chaos prevail. Paul reassures his irritated companions: Otto will reappear; he has often gone missing for days, binging on pubs and bordellos, only to return with a masterpiece in hand. Anna reacts strangely and with dissatisfaction.
The next day, the trio sets out to find him. Paul asks a man standing alone in a field if he’s seen Otto, to which the man replies that his friend often spends entire days walking around in the woods and has stolen his chickens. In the evening, after having searched for him in vain, Paul and Willi discover a musical score. It contains the first and second movements of Otto’s symphony. It only contains the title of the third movement – “Pater Seraphicus”. They also find a letter, in which Otto explains why he wants to live among the silence of the woods and why he wants to include the sounds of nature in his work. He admits he’s faced with a “nameless fear” and a kind of weariness of life – and that he also dreams of “soundscapes”. This sequence contains some insightful suggestions. “Pater Seraphicus” was another name for Francis of Assisi, who, as the legend goes, could talk to animals. This corresponds with Otto’s wish to convert the sound of nature into music. And the term “soundscape” would only be established decades later through modern composers, such as Ligeti and Penderecki. Thus, Otto’s music must have been far ahead of its time. He calls his lines dedicated to Paul “notes of a mentally ill person” – here, the film plays with a theme reminiscent of Aristotle: “genius and madness”. The music in the film – when not referenced – consists of excerpts from Gustav Mahler. Especially the famous adagietto from the 5th symphony refers to Visconti’s masterpiece DEATH IN VENICE.
Paul studies Otto’s musical score and asks himself, “Where have I heard this before? Depressing, but wonderful! He is battling with the composition!” Willi finds a copy of the famous and dramatic nude by Courbet, “The Origin of the World”. The painting will be constantly on his mind. The next day, they go out searching for the missing Otto once again and are faced with the question, “Are the birds singing Otto’s melody?” Paul tries to whistle it. When they return, Otto is sitting in the cabin. He doesn’t speak, doesn’t appear to notice his guests and goes to bed. Now there is one sleeping place too few. Paul suggests that Willi should sleep on the same bed as Anna, and he should sleep on the floor. Willi rejects the strange offer. The next day, Otto doesn’t wake up until he’s alone with Anna. Not long after that, they sleep with each other. When Paul arrives back with a doctor, the patient has disappeared again. Anna washes her sheets. Was Otto her first husband?
Paul finds a map with a lake on it. He goes in search of Otto with Anna. A fire is burning on an island in the lake, with a column of smoke rising above it. The following day, Paul swims out to the island, but, apparently, can’t find his friend. Neither he nor Otto ever come back. The police search also bears no results. Three years later, Anna spends a relaxing holiday by the sea. In the meantime, she’s had a child. When she sees Willi, the boy remains as silent as his alleged father. But here, the camera evokes a feeling of freedom by showing the undisguised vastness of the horizon. The woods, a German myth depicted in “The Song of the Nibelungs” and fairy tales, such as “Hansel and Gretel”, remains a place of danger and unpredictable nature, where people can disappear for ever.
Timm Kröger was born in Itzehoe in 1985. After completing his A-levels, he accompanied a travelling circus around Germany for nine months as a photographer. Later, he studied at the European Film College in Ebeltoft (Denmark). In 2008, he began his second degree at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. His graduate thesis film, THE COUNCIL OF BIRDS, was shown at the Venice International Film Critics Week and at the Hof International Film Festival.
2011 DAS LEICHT BEUNRUHIGENDE SCHAUKELN BEI DER FAHRT INS TAL
2013/14 THE COUNCIL OF BIRDS (ZERRUMPELT HERZ)
Hans Günther Pflaum, 10.03.2016