Considering how many works of art deal with the concept of mythology, this approach demonstrates how these stories might provide important answers on how to define modernity or at the very least provide much needed ideas. At the same time, it is also quite entertaining, from the side of the spectator and the artist, to witness and play around with these ancient stories, their heroes and their topics. With their first collaboration “Happy Lamento” German director Alexander Kluge and Filipino filmmaker Khavn de la Cruz proved their willingness and skill to approach towards concepts of modernity and, through combining the audiovisual worlds of their individual works, find a language to communicate these ideas. Screening at Berlinale 2020, their new feature “Orphea” is a modern re-telling of the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, a wild mixture of musical and drama, and very much in line with their approach in “Happy Lamento”.
In the streets of Manila, especially in the rock clubs and underground scene, Orphea de Jesus (Lilith Stangenberg) and her band are famous for their extravagant performances. Their gigs are mostly sold out as Orphea’s voice is able to literally transform the predominantly male audiences, who fall in love with her beauty and her voice. However, ever since one performance at a strip club, Orphea’s heart belongs to the male prostitute Eurydico (Ian Madrigal).
When Eurydico suddenly dies, Orphea’s world collapses. Unable to say goodbye to her lover and barred from the burial by the funeral party, she desperately cries at Eurydico’s grave until her tears awaken the spirits of the underworld who take pity with her. They allow her to enter the world of the dead where she can say goodbye to her lover.
For those familiar with “Happy Lamento” “Orphea” will seem almost like the logical continuation of the themes in the former film, albeit with a more structured narrative provided by the source material. Additionally, intertitles such as “The retrieval of the dead” or “Gathering the lost utopia in the underworld” provide a distinction of the various chapters in the 99-minute-long feature. At the same time, especially the many musical interludes, delivered by the imploring and mystifying voice of German actress Lilith Stangenberg, emphasize the idea of the whole movie as a cinematic conjuring of a utopia which has been lost at some point.
Whereas “Happy Lamento” may be regarded as a diagnosis of the state of modernity and our world in general, “Orphea” seems to be both, a burial of modernity and the world while also showing the possibility of renewal. Starting from statements, for example, Ingmar Bergman’s idea of art being dead and kept alive artificially by today’s artists, the wildness, the songs and images of “Orphea” seem to confirm Bergman’s idea while also searching for a new start. Orphea’s search for her lover, her various encounters with the inhabitants of the underworld, with segments about finding the formula for life and theater rehearsals interspersed, may be perceived as a way to finally start something new for herself, her art and her world in general. And even though these concepts may give you the idea of “Orphea” being avantgarde and overly intellectual, you only need to have a romantic mindset to understand how this work is, at its core, the search of creative minds to find new ways in their craft.
In the end, “Orphea” is a wild, beguiling new interpretation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Visually inventive and well-acted, Khavn’s and Kluge’s second collaboration again is an open invitation to the viewer to go on a journey, through modernity and art, in order to find something new together, a starting point while experiencing moments of surprise, wonder and playfulness.