Reviews Short Narrative

Q: ghostly remote effect (2020) – 3 stars

Director: Marcus Hanisch

Writers: Marcus Hanisch, Ariana Berndl & Anna-Lena Theobald

Cast: Effi Rabsilber, Lise Risom Olsen

Running time: 20mins

Filming the present is hard but filming the future is harder. Sci-fi can defeat even some of the greatest of filmmakers – think David Lynch watching the final cut of Dune. Yet the genre seems to exert an irresistible gravitational force on experimental filmmakers. And this is the case with the young German director, Marcus Hanisch. With Q: ghostly remote effect, Hanisch has jumped right in there and given us a very traditional sci-fi movie which references the canon all the way back to Mary Shelley.

We are in robot territory. The eponymous Q is, according to the accompanying promotional material, a quantum-gynoid. I will stick with robot – top tip, if anyone in the arts or business uses the Q-word, beware, like the finest used-car-salesman, they are probably using jargon to try and sell you a lemon. We meet Q (played by Lise Risom Olsen) as they are being put through their paces by a group of scientists in a white aseptic laboratory setting. The scientists give the robot a task mixing some chemical compounds together. They then ask Q to modify the mixture – Q responds, “I am not allowed to start a fire.” The scientists smile benignly as scientists in sci-fi films do, and give Q a light – Q sets the mixture ablaze.

The result is the mixture turns into some kind of lava curling up at the edges like the death throes of an indoor firework – all very reminiscent of long forgotten high school chemistry lessons. The robot has passed its test – we are ready to go. The scene has sketched out the main theme of the movie – the robot although obedient has the ability to question its programming – and, clunk, where will this lead to?

This opening scene left me somewhat disturbed. I was fine with the gender balance. However, all five protagonists, including the robot, are white and speaking in German. The only think we can assume in this scene is that this is White Euro Science in action.

We then move outside the laboratory. The robot is accompanied by one of the scientists, P, played by Effi Rabsilber, as their, minder, controller, keeper, or whatever is the noun for a person who works with robots. The couple, we presume are undertaking some sort of set of scientific tasks – the camera focuses on hand gestures which appear to have some kind of meaning as a meta-language but is all very gnomic and the audience is not let into the secret. The robot starts to take an interest in the outside world – looking intently at plants and rock forms. These scenes are all very Blakean mysticism in a cardboard cut-out way – the robot speaks reverently about “the part” and “the whole.” They gaze in wonder at a rock which has a fracture – they pick it up and it falls in two – they put it back together and hold it in their hands. Well, yes, we get the point.

Hanisch charts the development of the couple’s relationship. The scientist is somewhat dismissive of the robot at first. However, things get warmer, the scientist lets the robot into the expedition tent and there is an intimation that the relationship may become erotically physical. But then Hanisch weirdly cuts from the couple’s faces moving toward each other, as if to kiss, to an image of a cloud occluding the summit of a mountain top. Thankfully, it was not a wave crashing on the shore…

There is then a rather charming scene where the couple lie on the ground, Mother Earth indeed, as they recite a piece of high Romantic lyric poetry – “cloud floating heavenward…the day falls asleep…echo as a song through the skies.” They take turns as they speak the lines – yes, the robot is an artist susceptible to the Romantic imagination, and even capable of making art. There is a moving quality in the way Olsen and Rabsilber work the scene – it is exceptionally well acted. Hanisch then moves to a resolving finale with a meditative P walking alone by the seashore.

There are a host of good things in Q: ghostly remote effect, then. It is not a bad movie; it is credible piece of work by a young filmmaker – but it did not quite do it for me despite its overall competence.

One of my concerns was with the sheer, unrelenting dynamic of the film where the acting, soundtrack, screenplay, and sets combine to produce a monolithic quality of gloom and doom – a little more light and shade would have done wonders as to keeping your reviewer engaged. The only times Hanisch introduces a hint of colour results in some of the movie’s most memorable images – the light of the tent as an ersatz home and hearth and the promethean fire as p cooks a meal by the seashore in contrast to the dark, chill landscape. Similarly, the frenetic almost neurotic edgy feel to the screenplay got wearisome as the movie progressed – I was left hoping for some transgressive act – Q lighting a cigarette might have been fun.

This is all compounded by the dreary surroundings of the story. There is a choice that sci-fi filmmakers working on a small budget usually find themselves limited to when choosing a location – post-apocalypse industrial or wild, remote landscape. Hanisch opts for the latter – the vast majority is filmed in Iceland. Yet, the filmmakers do the Icelandic tourist industry few favours. They chose a particularly ugly part of the country – dark stone, shingle with scrubby plants and then filmed it in almost a monochrome. We catch an occasional glimpse of the mountains in the distance when they can be glimpsed through the rainclouds. The locale certainly builds on the edgy, ominous feel of the screenplay, giving a brooding, menacing edginess with a very Northern Romanticism feel. I half expected to see Caspar David Friedrich setting up his easel in some far corner of the screen.

This air of menace is further enhanced by the music from Markus Zierhofer, as well as the found sound which melts into it – all strange animal harrumphs and a claustrophobia inducing oscillation which I assume represented the robot’s breathing. But the soundtrack also offers a glimpse of what might have been, were the filmmakers to have had a little more fun with their project. Zierhofer is an experienced games soundtrack composer, and it shows when he pulls the themes that he has been using together to produce a true belter of an anthem for the movie’s final scene.

Somewhat more fundamental to the film is that it does seem concerned with covering any new ground or presenting us with any new insights into the relationships of a potential human/robot future. The standard tropes of the genre are simply regurgitated – the awakening of the robot to beauty and nature, the scientist’s irritation with their charge, the promise of love between robot and human are served up – ready cooked and unexamined. Of course, there is the possibility that Hanisch’s intention in making the movie was to produce an homage to the canonical greats – if this was the case some ironic signposting might have been useful.

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