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SYNTAGMA

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by VALIE EXPORT

grade: 8

In Syntagma by VALIE EXPORT, the great protagonist is the woman’s body and its relationship with the reality around it. The body that, each time, adapts to different contexts, to different forms. The body that only thanks to cinema has the possibility of “freeing itself”, of finding many new and unexpected declinations, of discovering a new self.

Doppelgänger

Cinema and its innumerable potentials. The human body (and, specifically, the female body) within the society in which we live. And again, a strong, very strong feminism and the rejection of any form of capitalism. These are the themes that the artist and director from Linz, VALIE EXPORT, has always explored in her works. The same applies to the experimental short film Syntagma, made in 1984 and particularly emblematic of her entire artistic production.

In Syntagma, in fact, we find all the themes dear to the director, as well as, of course, a constant search for new cinematic languages and new ways of understanding the seventh art itself. The concept of Expanded Cinema, which she coined together with the birth of the movement of the same name, finds its fulfilment here exclusively on the movie screen (unlike other situations in which one could also speak of real artistic performances). And yet, despite the fact that all this takes place in a ‘limited’ space, the final result appears more complex and layered than ever. But let us see, specifically, what it is all about.

In Syntagma, therefore, we are shown moments of normal everyday life of a woman (played by Irmilin Hofer). The protagonist is in her house, walking down the street, descending the stairs. At the same time, her image is constantly reproduced on other surfaces, it appears to us on a mirror, it is projected on a white wall, it is shown to us through a photo that portrays her in the same position she is in. This mysterious figure, therefore, constantly encounters herself, her double, or rather, her Doppelgänger.

The numerous potentialities of cinema play a decidedly central role here. Through frequent use of split screens, we see how reality suddenly splits into two. On a small TV set, a white cloth is placed, on which, in turn, the image of the protagonist is projected. Yet, in Syntagma, it is not only cinema that plays a central role, but art in many of its forms. Photography, for instance, as already mentioned, gives us sophisticated optical illusions through overlapping bodies, one in colour, the other in black and white. And as we see the protagonist, next to her own black and white printed image, crouching in an unnatural pose on the stairs of a building, architecture is also brought into play.

And so, here we go back to the initial discourse, in which, in fact, it is above all a continuous, in-depth study of the human body that most interests VALIE EXPORT. In Syntagma, the great protagonist is precisely the woman’s body, often shown naked, always alongside photographs that represent it, and its relationship with the reality that surrounds it. The body that each time adapts to different contexts, to different forms. The body that only thanks to cinema has the possibility of ‘freeing itself’, of finding many new and unexpected declinations, of discovering a new self.

Original title: Syntagma
Directed by: VALIE EXPORT
Country/year: Austria / 1984
Running time: 20’
Genre: experimental
Cast: Irmilin Hofer
Screenplay: VALIE EXPORT
Cinematography: Fritz Köberl
Produced by: VALIE EXPORT

Info: the page of Syntagma on iMDb; the page of Syntagma on the website of the sixpackfilm