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Saturday, 6/29/2019

The End Is Just the Beginning

Living with Death, and Life after Death

The End Is Just the Beginning

Death and what comes after: DEATH

Everything begins with birth and ends with death? It's not quite that simple, as a series of films at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN show. Sometimes protagonists must learn to carry on after the death of others. Sometimes death provides an opportunity to start over. And sometimes death is just an accident — literally.

Look at Paolo in ORDINARY HAPPINESS. In an attempt to get across an intersection quickly, he is struck by a car. Instead of reaching the hereafter, he returns to his old life — though, in an accident of heavenly bureaucracy, he's able to do so for only 92 minutes. That's not much time to reflect on all the moments that made Paolo the person he was: moments of happiness, but also moments he would rather have done without or that, in retrospect, he would have handled differently.

In KOALI & RICE, a widow named Lin Xiumei looks back on her life. Her children have grown up and moved out; they no longer need her. Her best friend died recently. And what's to become of her? Helped by a goddess and the ghost of her deceased friend, she begins, in her 70s, to look for new meaning in her life — a sensitive reminder that it's never too late to start over. LAND OF ASHES is similarly spiritual, even though its protagonist is just starting out in life. Elena is just 13 years old when her grandfather asks her to assist him in leaving this world. Imbued with a death wish and the ghosts of the deceased, this coming-of-age film from Costa Rica is a magical journey into the world of adolescence.

How to go on after losing somebody close to you: RELATIVITY and KOALI & RICE

A FAITHFUL MAN also begins with death. This time it's Paul who departs this life, enabling his best friend Abel to get back together with his ex, who had left him for Paul, whose child she was expecting. This sounds confusing, and in fact it's just the beginning of a turbulent romantic comedy in which the sister of the deceased also has an amorous say in things. RELATIVITY plays upon a similar theme. In that film, Aron dies suddenly, leaving Nora behind. Grief-stricken and staggering through the night, she repeatedly encounters Natan, who helps to ground her. She has a strange feeling they've met before.

Things get even stranger in three films that deal very imaginatively with death and the mourning that ensues. In SPELL, a darkly humorous thriller, an American illustrator travels to Iceland to clear his mind and cope with the loss of his fiancée. Instead of doing this, he is consumed more and more by bizarre daydreams. It's not entirely clear whether these are being caused by his lack of medication or by a strange tattoo he got after a night of heavy drinking.

A father and his son traverse the space between reality and imagination in THE PLACE OF NO WORDS. The two share not only their love for each other, but also a love of magical worlds that they travel through together in their imagination. This journey will end soon, as the father is dying. In neither world, the real or the imaginary, is he able to find the right words to prepare his son for a life without him.

Director Johannes Nyholm and his new film KOKO-DI KOKO-DA

But do the right words even exist for those who have to deal with such a situation? Elin and Tobias haven't found them after a long time, not since the death of their daughter several years ago. A weekend camping trip should help the couple to overcome this barrier and become close again. Instead, in KOKO-DI KOKO-DA, they find three strange individuals who are out to kill them. This is a surreal and murderous fairy tale about an inability to emerge from grief. This film is full of ideas that are so peculiar and at the same time horrifying that we want to find out more about them. That's why we've asked director and scriptwriter Johannes Nyholm to shed some light for us.

Could you give us some background to the film? When and how did the idea for it come about?

It has many origins. It’s based mainly on experiences from different relationships, my own and others.

Why did you tell the story in a horror context rather than just doing a straight drama?

I don’t think so much in terms of genres. My plan is never to do a western, a rom-com, a sci-fi or whatever. I want to tell a story and use all means available to make it as strong and rich as possible.

How did you come up with the three attackers?

They came to me in a waking dream, acting out pretty much as in the film.

The trio is frightening even when they’re not doing anything. What are you personally afraid of?

Losing my mind.

How is your life affected by death? Is there a way to prepare for death?

Death has many faces, and cit an show up when you least expect it. We try to convince ourselves that we are protected, that everything is safe and nothing can harm us. But in fact, life is so fragile. It can fall apart at any second. And it does for me now and then, as well as for everyone else. Preparing is hard, but having friends and family around me that I can trust helps a lot.

Why did you choose a children’s song for the film and its title?

It’s a children’s song from my childhood that has this repeating canon structure, dealing with death in a surreal way — the death of a rooster that can’t sing “koko-di koko-da” anymore. Still, it continues to sing it. It’s a bit irrational, childish, terrifying, and ever-repeating. A bit like life and death itself, and also a bit like my film.

Why did you switch to the puppet show in between?

I wanted to show the story of the family from a different perspective, and to make room to breathe and reflect. To take a step back to later be able to take a new step forward. It’s a slow dance in a very fragile paper and silhouette world, showing the fragility of life. 

Is there a way to cope with such a great loss?

I try to accept the situation as it is, look at it from a distance, soak it in and accept it. It’s not easy. It’s always painful.