“The Dreamed Path” accurately describes its serene, minimalist structure with its title, before the opening scene — a couple panhandling on the side of a long stretch of road, calmly crooning “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” — quickly confirms it. The couple are only together for a brief moment, before circumstances out of their control force them apart. In the background, a television nonchalantly delivers exposition; the Berlin Wall still divides Germany. Thirty years later, we are introduced to a setting futuristic in comparison and a new couple; our old protagonists are reduced to satisfying but brief cameos.
But the plot hardly matters and director Angela Schanelec evades any narrative obligation to her audience, producing a wholly elliptical work that alternates between utterly beguiling and painfully frustrating. It feels reductive to just call any work Bressonian — especially when Schanelec’s vision feels as assured as it is — but the film lives up to the qualifier in every sense of the word, adapted for the modern arthouse for better or for worse. The mechanical dialogue is only intermittently hypnotic, the sound design is sparse (and only the footsteps are consistent), a cynical temperament leaves the film entirely devoid of melodrama, and its visuals eschew anything that would come off as flashy. Furthermore, the film, with its seemingly counter-intuitive editing style, denies itself any catharsis anytime it threatens to ramp up. In fact, it almost feels as if the work were meant to confuse; the passage of time is all but implied, and the lack of any sort of aging all but further exacerbates the reality of the gap in between. Even with its short 86-minute runtime, at some point in the film, with all of these factors operating against it, one starts to question the forces at play keeping them in their seat.
But make it to the end, past the potential disappointment with the ending (I certainly had trouble), and allow the emotions to simmer for a little bit. Reminisce after the fact, and the emotional impact begins to make itself felt.
Jarring visual shifts feel oddly natural in a spiritual sense, even as time skips forward and the characters are transposed onto a new setting and then quickly exchanged for different ones. Certain concepts start to make their way to the top: the disappointment of expectations, the universality of separation, and the ultimate connection with self and nature over the more fragile bonds formed with others. Tonally, it carries itself with a calming and meditative melancholy which emanates a longing for more than what is at one’s disposal, and a simultaneous contentedness with life in its current state.
It’s easy to see how the film could aggravate its audience; it’s undoubtedly a challenging work. Schanelec’s direction, and her ability to juggle a simplistic, straightforward demeanor with such esoteric abstractions deserves admiration in itself, and oftentimes, seeing the commitment to the baffling nature of the work in itself is enough to warrant a watch. (It is interesting to note that while “The Dreamed Path” is a new film, Schanelec, with nine features under her belt and 22 years in the industry is hardly a new director). It is, however, extremely nice to see a film that really trusts its audience to come to their own conclusions, especially in the wake of so many competent blockbusters that do nothing but tell. Still, it is a hard film to recommend, and only more dedicated and patient audiences may find themselves satisfied overall. [B]