Cinematic painting: beauty and fright
An introduction to the work of Ute Ströer
By Oriane Durand
In Ute Ströer’s films the mixture between claustrophobic atmospheres and subliminal eroticism is overwhelming. Already in the first frames of her films the spectator finds himself in a surreal and ambivalent world. In her new film, „Sleeping Fox“, she takes this kind of double entendre to the top: it’s not clear where the different levels of narration begin and where they stop. Moreover, the virtuoso combination of cinematic requisites like skin, cloth, light, and sound amount to an organic still life.
As common for Ute Ströer’s work she takes her inspiration from a fairy tale which she transfers into a screenplay. This screenplay then only sets the direction of the film. From then on Ute Ströer begins work at the composition of the pictures - being director, stage designer, camera operator, costume designer, and actress at the same time. In a small studio she captures one film sequence after the other.
During filming she sees herself on a screen, gets into the right positions and plays out the scene while controlling the light and changing the cinematic requisites so that everything forms a perfect picture. Each new film sequence is born out of the previously filmed material. So step by step a more complex logic emerges. And gradually the film becomes a living painting. The originally written screenplay hereby takes a back seat and the fairy tale takes a course of it’s own.
For Ute Ströer the contents of the fairy tale is not so much important as are the contradictions contained in it. The bare fact that all the characters are played by herself undermines the structure of the fairy tale. For at the same time Ute Ströer is the bad, the good, the generous, the greedy, the beautiful princess, and the hideous witch.
There are no ideal and imagined figures, no heroes with whom the spectator can identify. One only perceives the different facets of one single person. The protagonist embodies a being with multiple identities whose face changes rapidly and utterly from one sequence to the other. One might consider it a sort of cinematic schizophrenia. The change in physiognomy and appearance happens so fast that one hardly takes notice of it. But if you do, the striking difference between the respective figures is remarkable. With faces extremely made up they look like dark, surrealistic characters that could have been taken directly from a horror movie. Here’s where Ute Ströer’s predilection of this genre and in particular films like “The Mask of Satan” by Mario Bava and “The Company of Wolves” by Neil Jordan, becomes apparent. “Sleeping Fox” is a nightmare springing to life in the form of a Movie. In it fright, fears and cravings are represented by the different characters.
There are neither culprits nor victims, nobody who is accused of anything and no one to defend. One has reached a place, like in a dream, where no judgement has to be passed.
Even if the atmosphere in Ute Ströer’s work can at times seem kitschy and flamboyantly baroque, it serves the purpose to do away with the rules of morality and unveil the elements within the fairy tale that can deliberate the subconsciousness.