The End Is the Beginning Is the End
By Susan Noll. A young woman is standing on a highway bridge, a bottle of hard liquor in her hand, her eyes red from crying, her unkempt hair hanging into her face. A film starting with such a strong image opens up to a multitude of impressions: maybe someone desperate is about to take her own life; maybe someone sad is trying to drown her sorrow in alcohol; maybe something tragic has happened. This image is a brilliant manœuvre by the filmmaker: it rouses the audience’s curiosity for the story behind this young woman. How did she get into this situation? The first image resembles the abrupt start of a short story, throwing the audience into the deep end of the story without any orientation, just to then walk the way back step by step to go back to the beginning.
This is also Christoph Schuler’s strategy in his short film VON ENDE UND ANFANG. His first shot, ripe with associations, is followed by the story of how it could have come this far. Two people, formerly lovers, that now can’t live with each other any more. Nonetheless they are forced to cooperate, because of their little son they have to take care of. On this basic constellation Schuler builds his film: the story of a family, the story of a divorce, a story about human beings. Nothing special, but this story still sets a cinematic challenge if to be presented in short film format. Because where to put all the lamentations, the long fights and arguments with which the usual divorce films fill the 90 minutes they usually have at their disposal?
The best option: reduction. In the compressed format of the short film Schuler is able to unfold a whole life’s story in just ten minutes. More still, two or three lives’ stories. The stories of three people, whose ways have diverged from each other but still cross from time to time. It’s a lot of material, but Schuler is able to work minimalist magic with it. Dialogue is short and still divulges so much about the character’s living conditions. There’s the father, who has been kept away from his son for so long, longing to see him again. There’s the young mother, overburdened with taking care of herself and of the child. And there’s a calamity that is at the same time an end and a new beginning. In between Schuler intersperses gaps and blank spaces for the audience to fill in themselves.
The film returns to the first shot shortly after the accident in which the son gets hurt. There’s an explanation now why the young woman is standing on the bridge drowning her sorrows in alcohol. The father has fallen asleep next to his son’s hospital bed. For every one of them the accident holds a different meaning: It’s the end of a relationship, the end of hope, but at the same time a possible new beginning. The mother has been disillusioned, maybe she even gave up her living together with her kid as her flight from the hospital bed seems to suggest. For the young man it looks more like the start of a life with his son – a hope that he had almost lost completely. Schuler visualises the circular structure of life by repeating the film’s first shot at the very end. In between the adult characters have developed, they show a short flash of their former trust towards each other – just to be once again disappointed by one another. But everybody is doing right by him- or herself, it’s just a matter of perspective. Just as both the adults get their own subjective point of view, when the camera rolls to show a short insight into the world from out of their eyes – two people who’s life is out of joint. This, too, is part of the cinematic circle of life: everybody has to decide for himself what’s the beginning and what is the end.