I WRETCHED MAN

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by Bastian Wilpling

grade: 8

I Wretched Man not only proves to be a highly experimental and meaningful work in its portrayal of man’s torments and his constant, heartbreaking sense of guilt. This interesting film by Bastian Wilpling is striking above all for its highly sophisticated stylistic approach, perfectly capable of creating a successful blend of cinema, music, painting and, last but not least, theatre.

The condition of human beings

The art of Shibari-Kinbaku is part of the ancient Japanese traditions that, through the use of ropes – in a manner apparently reminiscent of Western bondage practices – symbolises the bond between man and divinity, for a spiritual and metaphorical representation of the hierarchies of relations between the human and the divine. This practice, which, over time and only in certain situations, has come to take on erotic connotations, was also practised, in past decades, in order to ‘punish’ prisoners, helping them in some way to elevate their souls. And so, in the short film I Wretched Man (original title: Ich Armer Mensch), directed by Bastian Wilpling in 2019 and included – following the cancellation of the Diagonale 2020 – within the programme Diagonale 2020 – The Unfinished, this practice is staged in a completely innovative and meaningful way, through a successful blend of arts.

The black-and-white image of an isolated house – at the opening of the short film – immediately seems to remind us of the impressionist masterpiece The Fall of the House of Usher, directed by Jean Epstein in 1928 and based on the short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe. Yet here, we are confronted with something totally different. And we discover this immediately the moment we see the interior of the house: here, the initial black and white gives way to colour, and with rigorous and studied frame compositions, we immediately find ourselves in a Caravaggio painting. Slow pans of fruit, laid tables and dusty furniture introduce us to the everyday life of the protagonist. A man, barely awake, sings Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata No. 55, Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht, and, as he does so, begins to cook. Then, suddenly, behind him a mysterious figure begins to tie him up, while the man continues with his activities. The imprisonment of the human being – always busy running after material things without giving importance to true values – is represented here, then, precisely through the practice of Shibari-Kinbaku.

I Wretched Man, then, turns out to be a highly experimental and meaningful work depicting man’s torments and his constant, heartbreaking sense of guilt. This interesting film by Bastian Wilpling immediately impresses above all for its sophisticated stylistic approach, perfectly capable of creating a successful blend of cinema, music, painting and, last but not least, theatre. And if the notes of Maestro Bach accompany us throughout the screening, the room in which the protagonist lives reminds us closely now of certain paintings by Caravaggio himself (in particular with regard to the pan shots of the table or the moment in which the man is eating his meal), now very vaguely of the series of paintings entitled Bedroom in Arles, made by Vincent Van Gogh in 1888. And it is no coincidence that it is Van Gogh himself who is subtly mentioned here: guilt notoriously played a central role in the Dutch painter’s life and the protagonist himself even seems to recall it with his physical appearance.

Can there, then, be any possibility of salvation for human beings? Bastian Wilpling believes it is only possible through a deep inner change. And although the cinematographic discontinuity in the last scene of I Wretched Man seems to speak for itself in this regard, nothing is said explicitly and also leaves the audience a certain freedom of interpretation, for a true mystical experience as well as a complex and layered homage to beauty and art in all its forms.

Original title: Ich Armer Mensch
Directed by: Bastian Wilpling
Country/year: Austria / 2019
Running time: 17’
Genre: experimental, musical
Cast: August Schram, Georg Barkas
Screenplay: Bastian Wilpling
Cinematography: Steven Heyse
Produced by: Bastian Wilpling

Info: I Wretched Man on youtube