Hagazussa, directed by Lukas Feigefeld in 2017, immediately distinguishes itself through its formal choices. There is minimal dialogue. The music is mostly just stretches of tones and chords that rumble underneath the images. The camera is slow and distant lingering in the forest like a creature hiding and observing. Even with its stripped-down set of elements what is left is rich and thick with atmosphere. There are very few characters, very few locations, just an observant eye that seems to wonder about what it is seeing.
Hagazussa presents a portrait of alienation both physical and social and goes further to show a woman alienated from herself. Albrun struggles to find direction or purpose in her life. She is vulnerable because she is seeking meaning. She is not only vulnerable to others but to her own imagined narratives and ideas.
The beautiful and remote location of this film is as important as any of the characters or plot events. The forest is much more than just a location, or symbol, it is a presence that dominates the film. Albrun and the nature around her have a fraught relationship. She is able to commune with it, manipulate it, exist inside it, but in turn, it is able to exert the same forces back at her. Mother Nature is a nurturing image but she is not only a giver of life she also enfolds predators, and the violent and aggressive instincts that tear the flesh to get at the blood beneath.
The elemental nature of this film is reminiscent of Tarkovsky. There is a quiet blending of snow, wind, fire, blood, vomit, skin, and sunlight. Also like Tarkovsky, the camera floats and wanders interested in empty spaces and waving leaves, but unlike Tarkovsky, these elements are not so much poetic as they are menacing. Nature is both luscious and terrifying, fecund, and rotten.
Hagazussa explores the source and nature of female power. In a time and place where women were so tightly and brutally repressed the excesses of society’s fears would naturally produce the myth of the witch. The devil is terrestrial in opposition to the spiritual. The witch is terrestrial as well. For the believer, nature contains all that is base and sexual. The milk of the goat is sweet, tangy, and warm, it is a sensual experience that invites attachments to this world and its pleasures. Albrun is aroused when she milks the goat. It sprays and dribbles on her hand as she squeezes the animal’s teat. There is the beauty of the nurturing mother’s milk but there is an unnerving sexual undertow.
In patriarchal mythology, nothing is more mysterious and frightening than a woman’s sexual arousal. Albrun touches the wetness of her vagina and mixes it with goats milk then presses it to her lips. This is the witch’s brew, the evil blend of the body, and the devil. The most powerful and masculine of men can be brought to his knees by a woman’s sexual power.
Albrun is adrift in all these currents of emotion and power. She does not understand it or even recognize it but it slowly guides her forward. What it guides her to is both her fruition and her ruin. On two occasions she is given an apple-like Eve. Her undiscovered knowledge beckons her.
As in a Lynch film, there are hints that we may be watching the sequence of events out of order, or from the middle outward. It may be that chronologically Albrun’s child dies early on and we are watching Albrun’s delusional descent into despair and madness. She carries her baby around in a sling but it is completely covered up. It doesn’t move or make any noise. She leaves her house for long periods time seemingly leaving the baby unattended.
As the film progresses it becomes more difficult to distinguish between dreams, memories, hallucinations, and actual events. The film is already unstable by the time she takes the phallic mushroom in her mouth and reality falls away. As Albrun loses her grip on reality so does the film.
Hagazussa is hypnotic. It is heavy and dreadful and will drag you under. The textures of the surfaces, the tones that underlie the imagery, the rhythm of its unfolding left me no choice but to watch it again.
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