It’s rare to see tenderness between men in films. Social codes demand males keep a distance from each other, and dramatic codes drive them further apart onscreen by mandating that they meet in conflict. Relationships between adult male film characters, whether platonic or romantic, are inevitably based on power struggles. What’s missing is the simple sense—found so often in real life—of the pleasure to be gained from another person’s company.
In contrast, the films of Rainer Frimmel and Tizza Covi overflow with communion between friends and family members, of both sexes and all ages, ranging from comfortable to joyful. Their people work to understand each other’s shades of strangeness, clashing only to the extent that personalities do. The duo’s fourth and latest, The Shine of Day, shows a loner named Philipp encountering a strange older man, Walter, outside his Hamburg apartment. Philipp doesn’t wish to be bothered; the smiling Walter, fresh in town, says he’s the uncle that Philipp has never met, and asks his nephew to join him for coffee.
Both Philipp and Walter, like all of Frimmel and Covi’s subjects, are performers playing themselves. The Austrian and Italian co-directors—who will be present at Anthology Film Archives during The Shine of Day‘s run—met while studying photography in Vienna, then teamed up to document members of a traveling circus. They grew fascinated with the jugglers, acrobats, and knife-throwers, apparent social outsiders whose assumption of different public and private identities actually reflected the truth of how most people live.
In time, the recorders and players moved from still photographs to documentaries. La Pivellina (2009), Frimmel and Covi’s third joint film, marked a further shift. The tale of an older, flame-haired performer (played by Patrizia Girardi) and her family discovering and caring for an abandoned little girl was a fiction whose slim story, shot in sequence, showed intriguing people revealing themselves by improvising all movement and dialogue in and around their real homes.
The burly, graying former bear-fighter Walter Saabel (Girardi’s then-husband) left the filming of La Pivellina early to begin a circus contract. Frimmel and Covi wanted to give him a larger part in their next film, and so built The Shine of Day around him opposite another star they’d been following, the famed stage actor Philipp Hochmair. Like La Pivellina, The Shine of Day shows strangers rockily building a family together, with Philipp and Walter (who first met during the film shoot) agreeing early on, tentatively, to play their roles as newfound relatives. As part of the deal, the men—both as actors and as characters—allow each other into their lives. Philipp charms with Woyzeck‘s demonic madness, and Walter demonstrates the secret of bear-fighting: teaching an animal not to hurt.
Though plot-driven problems eventually emerge, much of Shine simply shows Philipp and Walter in dialogue. The camera follows their extended walks closely, framing the pair side by side. Philipp bounces between cities and roles, eager to revive Goethe and Kafka characters, while Walter soaks in the company of the living; Walter discovers happiness through reconciling his past and present lives, while Philipp confirms that he is happiest inventing new ones. The men build first trust, then tenderness, during moments of empathy. Each comes to understand the other by helping him to better understand himself.