99 minutes

Ten minutes elapse in Sonnensystem before a human figure enters the frame; fifteen more before a single word is uttered, though it is left half-heard and untranslated. What follows, over slightly over 90 minutes, is a wordless tone poem on a remote indigenous community threatened by the encroaching "civilized world" outside - its title, Solar System, a fitting description of the self-sustaining ways of life depicted throughout, seemingly coming from a whole other planet.

     What is striking is that the name credited as director is German veteran Thomas Heise, whose previous work was the mesmerising found-footage epic Material (2008), dealing with the fall of the Berlin Wall as a dividing line in modern German history, and who is usually more attuned to subjects "closer to home", so to speak. Yet, transplanted to the Argentine province of Salta (where acclaimed helmer Lucrecia Martel has set all her features) to follow the daily rhythms of the Kolla Tinkamaku community, Mr. Heise creates a meditation on society and civilization that seems a million light years away but, in fact, extends the concerns of his previous work through different means, apparently more modest in scope but no less thought out for that.

     Sonnensystem may not be as staggering as Material, but it is an equally wondrous piece, given added resonance by its astounding coda - a nine-minute tracking shot on a moving train that seems to underline the challenges faced by the community, previously shown watching a generator-run TV and travelling by bus out of Salta. That Godardian tracking shot, a stately equivalent of the celebrated traffic jam in Weekend, works as a combination of requiem and elegy for what the world is losing without being able to replace, and lifts Mr. Heise's film into a whole new galaxy.

Directed, produced and written by Thomas Heise; camera (colour), Robert Nickolaus, Jutta Tränkle, René Frölke; film editor, Trevor Hall.
     A Thomas Heise production, supported by the Goethe Institute Buenos Aires and HfG/ZKM Film Institute.
     Screened: DocLisboa 2011 advance DVD screener, Lisbon, October 13th 2011. 

Sonnensystem/Solar System Trailer HD from Thomas Heise on Vimeo.


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