It seems that the best qualifier for this kind of film is a single word—contemplative. These are films that work on you, that you spend a lot of time ruminating upon and attempting to piece together the varying parts. I find these sorts of films immensely rewarding, even if I’m not entirely certain of what, exactly, that reward is.
There might, however, be a tipping point to such a difficulty. The first line of intelligible dialogue in Sebastian Brameshuber’s Movements of a Nearby Mountain occurs roughly seven full minutes into the film. Before that, we’re introduced to our subject, a Nigeran-born self-taught mechanic (Clifford Agu) living in a remote location of the Austrian Alps. Brameshuber spares no expense in documenting the day-to-day minutia of this man’s life. We’re treated to full takes of him breaking down cars, or packaging parts in cling film.
Brameshuber conceived of Movements of a Nearby Mountain from a longstanding friendship with Agu, a result of the shooting experience on a previous short film Of Stains, Scraps & Tires. It gives the film a strange hybridized quality. On one hand, the film is not a non-fiction narrative. On the other, it’s clearly been based in documented practices and the careful observation of a working life. Exacerbating this muddling between fiction and non-fiction is the films occasional format change, from the sharp edges of digital film to the pillowy grain of 16mm, which coincidentally, was used for the aforementioned short. The line becomes so blurred, that it ceases to be definitively one or the other, and instead reaches a state of straight story.
This story is of a life that feels very real. Brameshuber’s determination to provide full accounts of Cliff’s work ensures the viewer feels the weight of it. Maybe this is just my own mechanical inadequacies speaking too loudly here, but it’s occasionally quite engaging to watch a real professional breakdown an automobile with precision and skill. It’s just as fun to watch him barter with potential buyers. Agu has a surprisingly graceful screen presence. It’s fairly apparent why Brameshuber felt he was an ideal subject for a feature film.
Agu isn’t the only subject of Movements of a Nearby Mountain. His shop is the other focal point. The space itself takes on a strange quality, particularly when Brameshuber chooses to shoot the space in a longer shot, which gives it the air of a ruin. The sound design in particular accentuates this, with every twist of a screwdriver echoing throughout the cavernous hall. One might suggest that the space feels dreamy, but it is certainly a unique location.
Movements of a Nearby Mountain should firmly ingrain itself into the varying canons of slower art cinema. It reminds me of a very specific brand of art cinema. One could almost suggest that it’s the Jeanne Dielman of hybrid mountain mechanic films, and yes, there are multiple scenes of Cliff making dinner. I found myself struggling to concentrate at time, as the film has a bit of a lulling quality. But the last fifteen minutes of this film hit hard, and are filled with long Solaris like in-car long takes (this one isn’t nearly seven minutes though). The concluding stages suggest that Brameshuber is looking at more than just a simple portrait of a humble mountain-side mechanic. I’ll probably be thinking about just what that is for quite some time.