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by Deniz Cooper
In Fish takes off, the highly surrealistic character of the story gives a light, lively and carefree character to the work, which is, however, very difficult to manage.
An unusual Venice
The goldfish is dead. What to do? Return it to its natural environment by throwing it off the Rialto Bridge or put it back in the cooler in which it has been lying for some time? This is the dilemma of a young woman who finds herself – for one reason or another – in the unusually deserted city of Venice. Bizarre, isn’t it? But this, however, is only the beginning.
Arriving like a breath of fresh air at the 69th Berlin Film Festival – in the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section – and at the Diagonale 2019, Fish takes off (in the original version, Fish lernt fliegen) is the vibrant debut feature – after a long career in advertising – by Viennese-born but Berlin-based actor and director Deniz Cooper.
With his young age (born in 1985), the director – together with co-writer Salka Weber, who also plays the leading role – has given vent to his wildest imagination, creating what could very, very freely be considered a coming-of-age story, an amazing adventure and a bizarre growth path of a young woman in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Structured in three chapters, the protagonist’s unusual journey – as she tells a friend who does everything to bring her home – has the ultimate goal of leaving her goldfish, who died when she was only seven years old. Whether or not this is the right path to take, however, the young woman will discover only by living.
Thus begins a bizarre array of characters that seem to have jumped out of a Lewis Carrol book: an odd gondolier who later turns out to be an actor, a couple of middle-aged American tourists, a young writer wishing to commit suicide, an elderly but rather energetic singer and, last but not least, a gruff concierge who is constantly worried that the protagonist might not pay for his hotel stay. And then stereotypes, stereotypes and more stereotypes (especially interesting is the waiter who, after receiving a small tip, makes a rude gesture behind the back of the customer who has just left).
Everything is staged in a way that reminds us of the cinema of Jean Pierre Jeunet (the protagonist herself might even look like a sort of tourist version of Amélie in Venice) and of the Swedish director Roy Andersson, especially because of the fixed camera shots and the static character portrayal. It’ s this extremely subjective direction – together with the 4:3 format of the work and the pastel-coloured cinematography – which, together with the highly surreal character of the story, gives a light, lively and carefree character to the work, although very difficult to manage. Even if only for sixty-five minutes.
The main problem of Fish Takes Off is, above all, the script (although Cooper and Weber’s passion in making it is tangible). While few have succeeded in making a name for themselves in surreal cinema from the origins of cinema to the present day (Buňuel docet), it’ s also true that, given the enormous fascination it exerts on spectators and professionals, most directors who have tried their hand at it have ended up failing (at least in part) miserably.
Now, such drastic situations do not concern our Fish Takes Off, yet it has to be acknowledged that, from a good half of the second chapter and up to the climax just before the conclusion, Deniz Cooper’s film goes around in circles, becoming redundant and losing its edge, to the point of suggesting that a short or, better still, a medium-length film in the same style would probably have led to better results.
But so be it. Fish takes off, after all, is how it is. Take it or leave it. And, in the end, it is the image of the main character from behind, on a boat at sunset, heading out to sea, the purity and freshness of the camera – as well as the always admirable desire to experiment with new languages – that make anyone who has seen this film love it.
Original title: Fisch lernt fliegen
Directed by: Deniz Cooper
Country/year: Germany, Austria / 2019
Running time: 65’
Genre: experimental, surreal, comedy
Cast: Salka Weber, Alessandro Bressanello, Julia Edtmeier, Florian Carove
Screenplay: Salka Weber, Deniz Cooper
Cinematography: Alex Haspel
Produced by: Salka Weber, Deniz Cooper