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Under Snow dir. Ulrike OttingerUnder Snow dir. Ulrike Ottinger
NH Tit-Bits
19 June 2012
Ulrike Ottinger Is Still Traveling in the East

Ulrike Ottinger is one of the most interesting independent German directors, a kind of "wandering eye". Her films are a genuine mixture of genres, blurring the boundaries between what is real and what is staged. She creates theatrical, comic characters and situations. Observing reality from a distance, she stresses the autonomy of the place that forms the setting of her story, its otherness, its strangeness. She is interested in ways of translating tradition into the language of modern culture. She studied painting and photography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. At the Sorbonne, she deepened her knowledge of ethnology, religion, and art history, and she wrote her first screenplay in Paris for French television. She started making films after moving to Berlin in 1973. She was traveling along the Trans-Siberian Railway when she made Johanna D'Arc of Mongolia. Hidden behind the camera, she traveled from Wroclaw through Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria to Odesa, and then on to Istanbul in Southeast Passage, which runs to more than five hours.

Instead of tiring of her ethnographic peregrinations, Ottinger is in fact moving farther and farther east. During the ninth edition of New Horizons, in the section "Documentaries, Essays", we saw her film The Korean Wedding Chest. In an example of a wedding ceremony in contemporary Seoul, she showed the infiltration of both tradition and modernity in an eastern culture that is full of rituals. She is still interested mainly in continuity rather than change. This time, she traveled to Japan to make her most recent (incredibly beautiful) film, Under Snow, which can be found in the section "Documentaries, Essays" at the 12th T-Mobile New Horizons International Film Festival.

Fascinated by Snow Country Tales, written by Bokushi Suzuki in the 19th century, the director made it all the way to the snow-covered villages of Echigo province in northern Japan. She brought along two kabuki actors who were to play the roles of Takeo and Mako. The men spend the night in an old house and undergo an extraordinary transformation, as they are turned into characters from a fairy tale: a man and a woman from the Edo period, following in the footsteps of the master Suzuki. Ottinger tells their story while, at the same time, observing the daily lives of the residents of Echigo, which are full of ritual, peace, and beauty. Kabuki, the visual poetry of the pictures, and the almost timeless present of the land of snow coupled with the traditional music of Yumiko Tanaki create an impressive combination in every respect. Ulrike Ottinger's Under Snow is a part of the festival program that no fan of eastern culture will want to miss.

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