Visions du Réel 2023 Review: LANDSHAFT Delves into the Psychogeography of Eastern Armenia's Contested Borders

Daniel Kötter directed the contemplative road movie, screening at the Swiss documentary festival.

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
Visions du Réel 2023 Review: LANDSHAFT Delves into the Psychogeography of Eastern Armenia's Contested Borders

In his latest psychogeographic documentary, Landshaft, German director Daniel Kötter diverges from his urban periphery-focused trilogy — Hashti Tehran, Desert View, and Rift Finfinnee — and turns his lens toward Eastern Armenia's captivating mountainous landscape. This landscape is home to inhabitants caught in the crossfire of extractivism, war, and displacement.

Competing in the Burning Lights sidebar at the Visions du Réel international documentary film festival, Landshaft takes viewers on a poignant road trip through the disputed border area between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Steering a beat-up Lada, emblematic of the Soviet era, along rugged dust roads, Kötter transcends the bucolic travelogue the film appers to be.


Though Landshaft is a contemplative road movie, its political underpinnings are unmistakable, as Kötter chooses not to display explicit war imagery or military equipment. The film delves into the underreported Nagorno-Karabakh wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan, spanning from 1988 to 1994 and reigniting in 2020, with post-war tensions persisting until 2022.

Kötter explores the psychogeography of the region and the emotions of those living near the mine, the border, and in the aftermath of war. This approach combines serene widescreen shots of the mountainous landscape with off-screen witness testimonies recounting displacement, resettlement, war sirens, battles, and the constant threat of future military escalation.

The film's depiction of time at a standstill in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Eastern Armenia evokes a period piece aesthetic. This temporal suspension is the result of the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, effectively trapping locals in the amber of the Soviet era.


Landshaft deliberately avoids explicit political commentary, choosing instead to listen to the stories of Armenians affected by the conflict. Kötter interweaves panoramic visuals of the expansive, desolate steppes and occasional dilapidated settlements with voiceovers from locals, sharing their experiences as both civilians and military personnel. This juxtaposition of visual and audio elements transforms Landshaft into an archaeological excavation of an ongoing historical event.

Without taking sides, the documentary delves into human rights territory and captures the feel of a lost chapter from history books. Its 'slow-cinema' form emphasizes the stagnant nature of the military occupation while maintaining a veneer of suspense beneath the surface.

Continuing his series of political geographies in Landshaft, Kötter employs his signature observational method, focusing not on the explicit and obvious but rather on the absence of violence and war. The film's implicit nature and remediation through the memories and concerns of locals serve as a powerful reminder of the underlying tension and constant threat permeating the region.

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ArmeniaDaniel KötterdocumentaryGermanyLandshaftVisions du Réel 2023

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