Things are never the same after Elly Brandl, a wealthy gallery owner in Vienna, decides to help out a young victim of human trafficking get back on his feet.
During one of her nocturnal adventures out on the town Elly Brandl, a wealthy Viennese gallery owner, hits Alec Ionescu, a 24-year-old Romanian victim of human trafficking. Alec refuses to call for help and insists on just walking away from the scene. Afraid of the authorities, but unable to go on, Alec has little choice but to accept Elly’s offer to take him home to recuperate. In the days that follow we witness Alec trying to put his shattered mind back together while Elly observes him like an exotic species at the zoo. But soon the tables are turned.
Sometimes Alec is functional and articulate, sometimes he is nearly catatonic. He prefers to sleep under the dining room table where he feels safe. He drinks against insomnia and suffers from mild hallucinations and recurring states of anxiety. Although he feels relatively safe in Elly’s modernistic apartment, he is a prisoner of his past. Elly’s ex-husband Mark, a New York based video artist, tries to convince Elly that her new friend needs professional help, not just a bed and a roof. However Mark is more motivated by the prospect of getting Elly back into his life than any real empathy with Alec.
Alec becomes Elly’s new muse. She delights in spying on him, taking his measurements, dressing him and conversing with him. Elly’s envious sister Helene sees the attractive Alec as another one of Elly’s sexual conquests. Helene is not afraid to express her contempt for what she sees as a useless drifter, a member of a class of people who can be exploited and then disposed of. When Mark realizes that Elly and Alec have become more than friends he jettisons his humanitarian pretenses and resorts to brazen appeals to love, status, and finally brute force.
We experience Alec and Elly’s relationship as shifting tableaus of perspective. Elly’s apartment, an impressive collection of abstract angles and improbable spaces, is both a house of mirrors reflecting various dualities and an opaque barrier. What cannot be said – a shared desire to experience love in a new way, to be free of any societal qualifications – may only be depicted in passing moments.
Gatekeeper is a subtle examination of the hidden fault lines created by migration, identity politics and the consequences of transgression.
After experiencing an unexpected brush with the often invisible world of human trafficking I began to investigate stories of undocumented workers and their exploitation by various criminals. Soon I discovered that at least half of the trafficked people in Europe had their proper documentation and were, at least on paper, lawfully employed, but living as slaves. I also just as quickly discovered that there were a number of remarkable films on human trafficking. So I knew I wasn’t going to do that kind of film and began to ask what it was that really fascinated me. In a nutshell, it was the need to possess a malleable and highly subjective perception of the other. We hear of immigration crises but do not receive adequate explanations for them. There’s a good reason for this: we are not supposed to ask those questions, but to accept that there are “other” people who somehow do not count. To control the image of another is a form of power, and my film examines this on a personal scale.
AskimAskim Film Berlin (Germany)
Kottbusser Damm 6, D-10967
Martin Maier Media (Austrian)
Martin Maier Media e.U.
93 minutes, color, 25 fps DCP, PAL, Dolby 5.1, 1:1.85
in English, German, Romanian, Pashto w/ English subtitles
Director: Lawrence Tooley
Writers: Lawrence Tooley, Loretta Pflaum
Edited by: Lawrence Tooley
Production Design: Lawrence Tooley
Constumes: Loretta Pflaum
Producers: Loretta Pflaum, Lawrence Tooley, Martin Maier
Cinematography: Jide Tom Akinleminu
Sound Recordist: Manja Ebert
Sound Design: Daniel Iribarren
Make up: Elham Pouladvam
Key Cast: Loretta Pflaum, Antje Hochholdinger,
Anghel Damien, George Pistereanu, Jeremy Xido, Mahmmadaullah Zadran
Gatekeeper, the second feature by Texan-born, Vienna-based filmmaker Lawrence Tooley, currently screening at the Diagonale in Austria, is a different take on human trafficking within European borders. On one hand, Gatekeeper is about a lesser-known form of human rights abuse – the profits made from cheap labour “imported” from poor EU member states to more prosperous countries. Without a shred of political commentary or wishing to become yet another feature on immigration issues, the film is more about the imbalance of power conditioned by individuals’ backgrounds and social status. Based on a script penned by Tooley and his co-author and lead actress, Loretta Pflaum, the story only slightly leans on information provided by the OECD, with the actual narrative centring around a love story doomed to failure, delving deep enough into the mechanisms of human nature without breaking the magic by being too self-explanatory.
Elly (Pflaum) is a successful Viennese gallery owner who leads a double life. By day, she is a focused business owner who keeps everything under control, but by night, she drives around on her mysterious quests, wearing a disguise. During one such nocturnal excursion, she accidentally hits a young man on a bike, whose fear of the authorities forces Elly to make a choice. She invites him to stay with her in her huge, modernistic apartment and recover. Although he now appears to be safe, the man, whose name (Alec) and nationality (Romanian) are virtually the only information he gives Elly about himself, still seems to be paralysed by anguish. The modern inner architecture of his new temporary abode, with its massive windows overlooking the most opulent buildings in town, becomes a central part of the anatomy of the psyche, as it reveals both protagonists’ deepest desires, angsts and personal codes of conduct. As the love between the two burgeons, the posh milieu is quick to react. The conflicts between Alec and Elly’s ex-husband Mark (Jeremy Xido) and sister (Antje Hochholdinger) are pre-programmed.
The decision to use two actors to play Alec (Anghel Damian and George Pistereanu) might be confusing at first, but as the film progresses, it starts making sense. The title Gatekeeper is a clear reference to the parable Before the Law contained in Franz Kafka’s The Trial, which is retold in the final chapter of the film by an Afghan refugee, featured in Mark’s video art.
The film’s soundtrack is exquisite, made up of rare or unknown tracks ranging from the progressive rock of Egg and their version of Bach’s Fugue in D Minor to the “schnitzelbeat” of Gerhard Wilfried’s Chica Chica Bum from 1958. Romanian avant-garde composer Iancu Dumitrescu’s Hyperspectres for Cellos wraps around Alec’s nightmare sequence like a scarf around a victim’s neck, while excerpts from Salvatore Sciarrino’s Capricci 1,2 & 5 and the microtonal sounds of Manfred Stahnke’s Capra follow him on the long, slow road to mental recovery.
The scripting, directing, editing and even a part of the production of Gatekeeper, which was shot entirely in Vienna, were handled by Tooley. It was produced by AskimAskim Film Berlin, which also has the international rights, and Vienna-based Martin Maier Media.
Gatekeeper ist sicher kein einfacher Film, und ebenso sicher dürfte er es im Kino schwer haben, trotzdem, ein toller, ein verwirrender Film. Harter Sichtbeton, enge Winkel, schräge Einblicke, alles sehr geradlinig, klaustrophobisch, ein Beton-Glas- Spinnennetz, in dem die Figuren gefangen scheinen. Eine Frau, die mal blond, mal brünett ist, ein junger Rumäne, den sie erst anfährt, dann mit nach Hause nimmt, dann in ihr Bett nimmt. Ein junger Mann? Oder doch zwei? Die Erzählstränge laufen übereinander, durcheinander, vermischen sich, ergeben ein Neues, öffnen sich, die Figuren bleiben gefangen, egal wieviel sich klärt im Verlauf des Films. Mysteriös, stilistisch und inhaltlich spannend, und dazwischen ein Pakistani, der in einer Videoinstallation Kafakas Türhüterparabel erzählt. Empfehlenswert.
Gatekeeper is certainly not an easy film. Just as certain is the fact that it will not have an easy time in cinemas, nonetheless it is a great, confusing film. Hard fairfaced concrete, narrow angles, slanted perspectives, everything very linear, claustrophobic, a concrete-glass spider web holding the figures seemingly captive. A woman who is sometimes blonde, sometimes brunette, a young Romanian whom she hits with hr car, then takes home, then into her bed. A young man? Or two? The narrative lines run over each other, through each other, mixing themselves up, make a new one, open themselves, the figures stay imprisoned no matter how much gets cleared up in the course of the film. Mysterious, stylistically and thematically exciting, and in between a Pakistani, who tells Kafka’s parable of the Gate Keeper in a video installation. Recommended.
Dominik Kamalzadeh, Michael Pekler, 19.3.2018
Verwirrspiel und Machtstudie
Ein Hang zum Absurden hingegen ist Loretta Pflaum und Lawrence Tooley (Headshots) nicht abzusprechen: Gatekeeper, so der mysteriöse Titel, dessen Kafka-Bezug sich erst am Ende auflöst, ist ein formales Verwirrspiel, in dem Pflaum als Galerienbesitzerin sich nach einem Unfall einen rumänischen Gast in ihrer Luxuswohnung hält. Gatekeeper wirkt wie eine Gesellschaftsstudie über ökonomische und sexuelle Macht, bei der sich die Figuren wie Probanden lustvoll und unausweichlich ineinander verstricken.
Confusion and Study of Power
One cannot deny Loretta Pflaum and Lawrence Tooley’s (Headshots) penchant for the absurd : Gatekeeper, its mysterious title’s Kafka reference revealed only at the end, is a formal game of confusion where Pflaum as gallery owner keeps a Romanian guest in her luxury apartment after having an accident with him. Gatekeeper works like a study of economic and sexual power in which the figures, like subjects in an experiment, enmesh with each other with relish.