Landshaft - From the Lake to the Clouds. GAIFF CRITICS WORKSHOP REVIEW

Early in Daniel Kötter’s Landshaft, a cow-herder rides toward us and past the edge of frame, asking the director what the camera is doing there. We never get a response; what makes Landshaft compelling is trying to figure out the answer. Ostensibly a documentary about Armenian life around the Sotk mine in the aftermath of the 2020 Karabakh war, Kötter’s film provokes us into contemplating the myriad forces—personal, historical, scientific, natural, and abstract—at play in the lives of the region’s inhabitants without ever offering any easy understandings of what simply can’t be understood: what it’s like to live in a warzone.

This uneasy dialectic between our comprehension and lack of it is conveyed compellingly through the film’s distinct separation between sound and image. What we see—long lateral panning shots of mountains; hazy silhouetted glimpses of people in cars and kitchens; whooshing Sensory Ethnography-esque views of vehicles in motion—and what we hear—personal reflections, monotone radio reports on military strategy, and the odd piece of melancholic synth music—come to us with vast distances between them.

Eventually, Kötter’s tactics edge into repetitiveness, and the film lacks either the emotional connection or intellectual rigor to make the experience truly compelling; Chantal Akerman it is not, even if From the East and From the Other Side are obvious reference points. Arguably the ambivalence it generates is a feature, not a bug, and the film is astute enough at parceling out information and introducing formal variety for it to remain compelling and stimulating, if somewhat underwhelming.

Joshua Bogatin