Jan Krüger: Unterwegs (On the Road, D 2004)


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Jan Krüger: Unterwegs (On the Road, D 2004)
Ekkehard Knörer



Director Info

[Image]"Unterwegs" is Jan Krüger's first feature film.  Krüger was born in 1973, he studied physics and social sciences before changing to the Cologne art school, where he took film classes - and wrote a paper on  photographer and film director Larry Clark (which you can download here, in German). "Unterwegs" won the "Tiger Award" at this year's Rotterdam Fim Festival and was shown in the section "Perspektive deutscher Film" at this year's Berlin Film Festival. 


In the beginning there is darkness. And a lighter moving in the darkness. A tent, one person, two persons and a third one, perhaps. The positing of a beginning, in the darkness, confined, light and perception moving shakily. From here starts a story, or so we should assume. Three make a family: mother, father, daughter. But there is, as we soon learn, something wrong already. 

And four don't make a family. Marco, the fourth person, is the unknown in this equation. An unknown that, from his first very uncanny appearance, disturbs, distorts, destroys this equation. We see him, the first time we see him, at the car, walking, watching, aimlessly, it seems. Perhaps a thief. Benni, Sandra, Jule are camping at a sea and when Benni and Jule are playing in the water, Marco - whom the three of them, in their tent, have not yet seen; but we have - turns up again, an aggressor, a friend, undefinable, uncanny, groping for acceptance. He then, very soon after that, is beaten by two brutes, we don't really know why. Sandra comes to rescue, without her intention.

Intentions, in a way, are what "On the Road" is all about. Or rather: The not knowing of intentions. Things happen, they just happen. The four of them, a family and not a family, leave the camping site, drive at night, it's Marco's seemingly spontaneous idea. They cross the border to Poland, in the morning they arrive at the sea, a beach, Marco finds an apartment for all of them. He seems at home, he speaks Polish and we only have to learn why. We get to know things about him, but we do not get to know him. He is in a continuous paradox movement of approaching both Benni and Sandra, and then, when they try to get closer, he shies away. He kisses Benni, he kisses Sandra and we have no idea what he is after. What is more, Benni and Sandra don't have an idea, either.

"On the Road" does not explain anything. It does not give intentions and it does not even withhold them. They are unclear, to everybody. It's as simple as that. The four of them are moving but they don't know where and why. Benni and Sandra have sex in front of Marco's eyes. They don't speak, nobody knows what exactly is going on here. Are they teasing Marco, are they playing with him - or do they desire him? But desire as what: as an onlooker, as a lover, as the ideal that Benni can't be for Sandra, that Sandra can't be for Benni? We don't know and we will not learn.

The camera keeps watching, but the film obstinately refrains from explaining. There is an uncanny objectivity in the camera's unmoved gaze, an objectivity that very soons turns into stupifiying mysteriousness. We see, but we don't understand. What we experience is a horror of not knowing. Who is Marco? How can we make sense of him? And then the film breaks into sheer happiness, into an incredible beauty, out of the nowhere it has been circling all the time. For five minutes the film seems to complete lose its direction, Sandra and Marco at the beach, Sandra and Marco on a motorbike, slow motion, extremely grainy pictures, almost dissolving into dots and pixels. The narration is elliptical all the time, but here, in these minutes that will change the lives of everybody involved, ellipsis turns into an abyss of wordless happiness.

It can't last, it won't last, the ending is near. It's nothing but afterplay after this ride out into the darkness, in which the pictures seem to lose their referent, seem to move towards disfiguration, a painterly abstraction. During this afterplay, however, everybody will be hurt, everything will be reshuffled. Nobody will really know how it happened and why. It happened, it just happened.

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