The directorial debut from multimedia artist Alyssa Taylor Wendt, HAINT is an experimental narrative film that tells the story of a young man in Berlin trying to survive at the end of World War II. The story is a surreal journey through his desires and doubts, as he simultaneously confronts and bears witness to the slow unraveling of his mother and the neighbors next door. Speaking to our fear of death, HAINT examines the forces behind our will to survive and what price that may carry.
This film was originally designed as a three-channel video installation. Miss Wendt is currently developing one channel of the production into a narrative feature to bring this vision to a wider audience and to develop the depth of the story itself. In development for four years, the project was greatly inspired by the conflicting stories her dying father told her about living through the end of the war in Germany and subsequently moving to America and serving as not only an architect, but supposedly an operative for the CIA. HAINT explores recent themes in her artistic process including monuments, decay, memory, cycles of history, perceived grandeur and parallel realities.
The film opens with the operatic narrator, Helmselm, who represents death and the shadow side. Brought into consciousness from another realm, he randomly selects a photograph of a woman and pins it to a memorial wall. Leaving the house, we see him pass through the ruins of a city. Peter, an eager young man who dreams of America, has a crush on his best friend and neighbor Eva. He meets her after her factory shifts and they go searching for cans of food in the rubble. Peter and his mother eat with her family on a nightly basis where they make meals from what they can scrounge together. The families are mentally fragile and tensions run high as morals clash and hope remains elusive. The patriarch, Willy, constantly digs for their former belongings that were buried for safety in the yard, while Peter scouts the secret factories popping up around Berlin, which is occupied by the Russian military and full of desperation. Each of the characters brushes up against death and escapes their feeble reality through fantastical visions, fantasies and hallucinations. Peter’s routes and adventures forge a dreamer who has no awareness of Eva’s lurking illness, the depression within both of the mothers or the mental deterioration of his hero Willy that mirrors the fall of Germany. This line between darkness and light blurs as the relationships dissolve, and the only constant and stable element is Mortality, played with great empathy and gothic beauty by the performance artist Joseph Keckler as Helmselm.
The film plays like a surreal journey through the discomfort of familial dysfunction amid the scars of war and destruction, with elements of magical realism and unique imagery. After endless dinners and with tensions high, Peter’s mother Karolin flees the safety of the neighbors’ home, only to be raped by Russian soldiers and left for dead. The film ends with the security of death and we are left with a longing for hope, peace and closure.
The film is due to be completed by Fall 2015.
Directors: Alyssa Taylor Wendt
Writers: Alyssa Taylor Wendt
Producers: Ben Friedman, Alyssa Taylor Wendt
Key cast: Joseph Keckler (Helmselm), Nils Juul-Hansen (Willy), Jon D'Ambrosio (Peter), Karolin Brandi (Karolin), Dominique Lowell (Elfriede), Caitlin Burt (Eva)