washed-ashore-1994-angeschwemmt-geyrhalter-review

WASHED ASHORE

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by Nikolaus Geyrhalter

grade: 8.5

There is a special world that is told in Washed Ashore. This, in fact, is the world of fishermen, of cemetery keepers, of Buddhist monks, of homeless people, of soldiers used to gather for their exercises far from residential areas. A world where many cultures come together with dozens of different stories. Stories and people who, however, have something great in common: the Danube.

The Blue Danube

Once upon a time there was one, nay, many magical places. Places where time seemed to stand still. Places that the human hand and increasing urbanisation seemed to have left untouched. Places so close to a big city, yet so far away from everything and everyone. These are the places that the renowned documentary filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter wanted to show in his Washed Ashore (original title: Angeschwemmt), his debut documentary made in 1994, in which it was already possible to recognise the directorial approach and narrative structures typical of the Viennese director.

And it was precisely from Vienna – from his home town – that Geyrhalter undertook a journey that would lead him into a world apart. This, in fact, is the world of fishermen, of cemetery keepers, of Buddhist monks, of homeless people, of soldiers used to gather for their drills far away from residential areas and – last but not least – of an unusual Romanian couple used to live and work on board a boat transporting cement from Hungary to Austria. A world, then, in which many cultures come together with dozens of different stories. Stories and people who, however, have something great in common: the Danube. And it is precisely the great love for this river – together with the quietness of the places it crosses – that has driven these people to make certain life choices. To want to live a life apparently far from everything and everyone, in which, after a day’s work, the most beautiful gift one can give oneself is a long walk in the midst of nature or, at most, a beer in a small local pub with one’s lifelong friends.

But how much longer will such a reality last? In Washed Ashore, Nikolaus Geyrhalter wanted to show us the last days of a world that will soon be replaced by urbanisation and industrialisation. Just as is demonstrated by the imposing (and rather bulky) buildings that, from time to time, can be seen from the other side of the river, where once there were only trees and large expanses of meadows. And so Washed Ashore – together with the characters here – immediately takes on the character of an old photograph. A photograph of bygone days whose nostalgic and strongly melancholic effect is further accentuated by a significant black and white throughout the documentary.

Geyrhalter’s camera, in turn, sees the interviewed characters address her directly, as the ideal custodian of tales otherwise lost to memory. And all of them, one after the other, have countless stories, secrets and anecdotes waiting to be revealed. Just like the numerous tales of Josef Fuchs, custodian of the Cemetery of the Nameless, who for more than sixty years fished from the Danube corpses of people who had died by suicide, who could not be identified, and subsequently buried them in the aforementioned cemetery. Or like the nice Romanian couple who have lived and worked on a boat for over thirty years and who believe that such a thing would be unthinkable for a young person today forced to live without television or radio (and just think that at the time, internet use was not even that widespread).

Nikolaus Geyrhalter, for his part, has always observed the impact – or should we say the damage – of mankind on nature (just to give a few examples, think of the recent Earth, from 2019, as well as the previous Homo Sapiens, made in 2016), and in this Washed Ashore he has already revealed his usual attitudes and his unique approach to staging everything with a necessarily slow and contemplative tone, where there is no place for extradiegetic music, but where only the characters interviewed from time to time make their voices heard and, above all, nature, with the wind moving the leaves of the trees, the birds flying in flocks and, last but not least, the Danube. The sound of flowing water conveys an unusual sense of calm and melancholy at the same time. But – just as Heraclitus, in his time, stated – it is precisely this continuous flowing of water that tells us that everything passes, that nothing is permanent, that nothing will last forever. Not even this peaceful world portrayed in Washed Ashore. Just as the image of a lone fisherman who silently observes his beloved Danube almost in contemplation.

And if, already in his debut documentary, Nikolaus Geyrhalter seems undoubtedly critical towards aggressive urbanisation, on the other hand what plays a fundamental role in Washed Ashore is precisely the nostalgia for this distant world. A world to which the director has here dedicated a true declaration of love and which, despite everything, thanks to him, at least on the big screen, will live on forever.

Original title: Angeschwemmt
Directed by: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Country/year: Austria / 1994
Running time: 86’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Cinematography: Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Wolfgang Widerhofer
Produced by: Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion

Info: the page of Washed Ashore on iMDb; the page of Washed Ashore on the website of Nikolaus Geyrhalter; the page of Washed Ashore on the website of the Filmarchiv Austria