Berlinale 2023 Review: MUSIC Turns Oedipal Story Into Transcendental Experience

Directed by Angela Schanelec, Aliocha Schneider, Agathe Bonitzer, Marisha Triantafyllidou, Argyris Xafisc and Wolfgang Michael star in the German-language film.

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
Berlinale 2023 Review: MUSIC Turns Oedipal Story Into Transcendental Experience

A promiment Berlin School figure and winner of the 2019 Berlinale, Angela Schanelec presented her eagerly awaited new work, Music, in the Berlinale's main competition.

Schanelec became a recognizable auteur (The Dreamed Path, I Was at Home, But...due largely to a distinct style that remains substantial in Music. Her filmmaking aesthetics are deeply rooted in a minimalist approach, based on simplicity, naturalism, and nonlinearity. She uses long takes, static shots, and unobtrusive editing to create a sense of immersion.

Her style is complemented by her use of sound, which is often minimal and unobtrusive, adding to the naturalistic and understated feel of her films. Music and elliptical narration have a more prominent role in Schanelec's new work, the former being the film's title.

Music has been rumored to be an adaptation of the prototypical drama, Oedipus Rex. However, the reimagining the German director realized has only loose threads to the original source material.

And that is better because Music should be regarded more as an original Schanelec original work and less as an adaptation of the notorious Sophocles’ tragedy.


The German director's film is mostly set in Greece and follows Jon (Aliocha Schneider) from his alleged rescue from a ramshackle shepherd's hut through his life. A series of almost silent tableaux charts elliptically Jon's upbringing until he ends up killing a young man in an anticlimactic scene.

He is sentenced to jail, where prison employee Iro (Agathe Bonitzer) falls for him in a way circumventing any sentimental or climactic portrayal. After the sentence, they marry, have a child, and work on a family pomegranate orchard.

The plain retelling of the plot does a blasphemous disservice to Schanelec's vision and execution because Music's formalism and the filmmaker’s trademark aesthetics exceed the plot.

Music is a cinema of intensive experience, demanding direct engagement from the audience,  instead of passive acknowledgment of plot points.

There are too many ellipses, along with scarce dialogue, a random jump in time, and a seemingly frivolous shift from rural Greece to the hustle-and-bustle of Berlin. The film appears cryptic, intangible, and impenetrable. Music becomes endurance cinema at its most delicate.


Many formalistic aspects associated with the so-called slow cinema movement are noticeable in Music, but the film is not a slow cinema oeuvre.

The frivolous use of time, and casting of very young lead characters who were supposed to be a generation apart according to the director´s statement at the post-premiere press conference, may foment confusion and frustration in viewers.

However, Music is not an ordinary film and thus a linear reading should not be applied. It's a conceptual work and Schanelec's approach to tackling the narrative mirrors the theatrical aesthetics of the German theatre that it has become famous for.

If Music is to be approached as an adaptation of Oedipus Rex, it should be done through the lens of avant-garde theatre, as bold and seemingly counter-intuitive decisions define Schanelec's latest work. Schanelec eschews traditional plotting in favor of a contemplative, deeper and more nuanced perception of existence, not driven by conventions of linear storytelling.

Civil imagery is captured with a static and occasionally slow-moving camera and long shots focusing on rather mundane aspects but meticulously framed in a form of deep or introspective realism.


As demanding as the film is, the experience on the verge of meditation is that much rewarding, especially when viewers let themselves be absorbed in Schanelec's simple yet hypnotic image-weaving.

Tragedies abound. Music helps to transform the ordeal and misery to bear the yoke of fate. And that makes Music timeless. Schanelec's latest work is the celebration of the transcendental nature of music and cinema. Once again, Schanelec proved to be the master of minimalist cinema.

Music won the Silver Bear for best screenplay.

Cinema Guild acquired the film for the U.S. theatrical distribution; release dates are to be determined later. 

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Agathe BonitzerAliocha SchneiderAngela SchanelecArgyris XafiscBerlinale 2023GermanyMarisha TriantafyllidouWolfgang Michael

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