Fate: Fred Keleman’s German Film

The intellectually pretentious Fate marks the directorial debut of Fred Keleman, whose vision of the world is congruent with the notoriously gloom and doom tone and angst of earlier German cinema.

Though intensely personal, this ponderous film registers more as an academic exercise than a fully worked-out narrative, which means it’s strictly confined to the festival and arthouse circuits.

Narrative is made to demonstrate the director’s epistemology, announced in the opening title card, that “the distance between our present life and hell can be as short as a single breath.” To this extent, the story is is set in one continuous–and interminable–night, in which the paths of several lonely individuals are criss-crossed.

A man playing his accordion at a street corner is invited to another man’s house, where is forced to play and drink Vodka; shortly after, he’s kicked out without getting paid. Wandering in dark, empty streets, he goes into a fountain and a shrieking cris de coeur comes out of his mouth–an expression of anguish reminiscent of Harvey Keitel’s in The Bad Lieutenant.

When his girlfriend refuses to let him in, he forces himself into her apartment, only to realize she was having sex with another man. Shooting the other man, he beats her, while the camera zeroes in on her trembling knees. Later on in a bar, a man courts this woman, but another one sexually coerces her under the table.

Kelemen, who also wrote, edited, and supervised the noirish art design, overstretches the “no communication” thesis–his characters come from different countries, speak different languages and uphold different traditions. However, he also wants to show that, despite their marginal solitude, the characters are all bound together by fate (hence the title) and the eternal quest for happiness and moral redemption.

For long stretches, Fate is silent, which is just as well, as the film’s bleak imagery is far more impressive than its minimalist, broken dialogue. Long takes, meant to preserve the real time of events and interactions, lend the picture some realism but also make it more tedious to watch.

The message, that almost every gesture of love and friendship can turn into misunderstanding, humiliation and defeat, may be more reflective of the director’s immature sensibility than the logical state of his characters and their social networks.