Homecoming: Reflections on Moving Images that Move us to Reflection

By Tereza Stehlíková

double-life-of-veronique-krzysztof-kieslowski-1.jpgThe Double Life of Veronique, 1991

There is a land, which was our home once, which we left- for what we thought was a real world- a long time ago. It is a mythical, timeless land of freedom, a place where capricious, brilliant imagining resides, boundless possibilities roll on and forward like the waves of a stirring sea, each offering a breathtaking ride towards the distant, unknown horizon. Every step of the way can be awesomely beautiful, or deeply frightening or both at once, but it is never dull, for each movement, each experience, is felt to the core of one’s being.

And, just as on some days it is impossible to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins, so in this land theartbreaking beauty desperately try to recapture it, yet in the hands of most, as in a fairy tale where golden coins turn into a pile of dry leaves, the beauty of the vision peters out, turning the original mysterious presence into an empty picture, a sad caricature with no depth behind.ere is no way, or even need, of telling where tangible matter ends and the fabric of dreams begins.

While most of us abandoned it long time ago, the echo of the lost world still reverberates in our dreams, in certain rays of the morning sun, which have the ability to illuminate the soul of objects, in the sound of church bells drifting across the crooked rooftops of an old city, in the symmetry of certain events, too perfect to belong to chance.

All of these are mere fragments, refracted memories, which touch our soul, grip our hearts, and then disappear again. No wishful thinking helps, no daydreams are able to carry us across the vast expanse of water to re-enter the lost gates. The land, apparently, remains out of our reach.

Those of us who still remember its its heartbreaking beauty desperately try to recapture it, yet in the hands of most, as in a fairy tale where golden coins turn into a pile of dry leaves, the beauty of the vision peters out, turning the original mysterious presence into an empty picture, a sad caricature with no depth behind.

To capture the original spirit of the forgotten land an artist needs to forget about the nuances of outer form, the obsessive faithfulness to outer detail, and follow the way of the sun’s rays: Penetrate through the façade and touch the beating heart of matter, wake the spirit that still resides there.

The journey leading inwards is not an easy path, and many get scared or lost along the way, never to arrive. Only the few who conquer the obstacles gain the right to reclaim their land of freedom. There, they no longer oblige themselves with the petty but necessary rules of the ordinary world. Within their creative universe, they are freed from convention. What binds them instead, is the inner moral code, the responsibility as dictated by their own conscience, a sort of poetic truth of the spirit.

double-life-of-veronique-krzysztof-kieslowski-2.jpgThe Double Life of Veronique, 1991

The few great artists who follow this inner set of rules can fly as high as they need (to the moon, even to Solaris) or plunge as deep as they want (into the depth of human obsessions or loneliness) and we- the audience- will follow them everywhere. For we will recognize that at the heart of these flights of imagination lies the land of the spirit, our one true home.

The Wonderful World of Baron Munchausen (Karel Zeman) Because I saw this film as a child, it has acquired a sort of mythological significance for me, and its poetic essence touched me quite fundamentally. It completely inhabits the land of imagination. Its unusual feel, born of the almost organic symbiosis between real actors, animated machines and fantastical creatures, moving along painted backgrounds, emanates a strange, fragile, dreamlike atmosphere. Although brilliantly visually mastered, the film doesn’t hide its illusions. The degree of ‘faith’ in its world is left to the viewers. And if we have enough faith, it is a truly unforgettable experience and one which becomes truly our own.

The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski) The film is like a golden thread running through the fabric of a familiar world. There are no special effects, no fantastical storyline, yet the film is without a doubt, magical. This magic is revealed in the golden light, which illuminates certain episodes, bringing out the subtle yet beautiful symmetry of a life, its synchronicities, which wind like patterns, turning a simple story into a complete work of art. And later, when the film is finished, and we step out into the ordinary world, the light of the film spills over, and we may feel compelled to search for the golden thread in the pattern of our own lives.

Conspirators of Pleasure (Jan Svankmajer) Svankmajer looks beneath the surface of an ordinary city, and uncovers a network of devoted pleasure seekers. These conspirators form a sort of brotherhood, the members of which never speak to each other, except through silent glances. What unites them is their passionate drive for the satisfaction of their bizarre sexual obsessions. Behind the surreal and twisted, we may glimpse a deeper reality, where the human spirit reigns free, stubbornly defying all social conventions and hypocrisies, a place where the only boundaries are those imposed by our own imagination.

Solaris (Andrej Tarkovskij) We set out on long journeys, far into space, while all along the answers we are looking for are locked inside our own heart. And the freedom we seek, is a freedom from our self, from the past, which we cannot escape, but must face. The film blurs the boundaries between what we perceive as real and the power of our own mind to create a tangible world around us from subjective perceptions, memories and dreams. Yet Solaris is much more than a fantasy world or a distant planet. It is the dark mirror in which we can glimpse our true reflection. Only those brave enough are able to deal with such a confrontation and find peace.

Tereza Stehlíková is an artist, writer and filmmaker living in London (www.terezast.com). A special live-music screening of her film Fingertips launches this issue at London’s Curzon Soho on 17th June. See the Vertigo website for full details.