German director Jonas Bak’s cross-cultural, patiently perceptive debut feature WOOD AND WATER screens in this year’s 50th anniversary New Directors / New Films, April 28—May 13, which will include both streaming options and in-person screenings at Film at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art.
In Wood and Water, Anke (played by the director’s own mother, Anke Bak) retires from her job at a small-town Black Forest church, and looks forward to reuniting with her children over the summer holidays by the Baltic Sea, at a place where they lived as a young family. At the last minute, her son Max, who lives in Hong Kong, is unable to join them due to political protests.
Having been out of touch with him for many years and facing the void of retirement,
she decides to visit him, both to check in on her child and experience her own
adventure. As she waits for Max to return from a work trip to meet her in
protest-ridden Hong Kong, she moves through an enigmatic new world and connects
with strangers, including a young woman who is sad to leave the city, Max’s
doorman, a psychiatrist, a fortune teller and a social activist. These
encounters and her experience of the city help her to break down the inner
walls she constructed years ago and make way for a new chapter in her life.
Deliberately paced and curiously attentive, the film is also a personal love letter from the
director, in the vein of Chantal Akerman’s NEWS FROM HOME. As director Jonas
Bak explains, “The film’s idea is loosely based on the biblical story of the
prodigal son, told from the perspective of the mother and guided by her
memories of the past and the love that every parent feels for their children.
My own mother plays the main character and I, like so many young people, left
her at the earliest opportunity, doing my own thing out in the world, without
ever fully appreciating how much she must miss me. I want to give her a hug
with this film, which to me is a portrait of loneliness (our loneliness and
that inflicted on others), longing and the consequences of distance.”
The film is also an aesthetic and philosophical project for Bak, who stresses the
importance of the patient act of perceiving encouraged by slow cinema in an
increasingly harried digital world. With the help of Alex Grigoras’ expressive
cinematography and the music of Brian Eno, Bak has crafted a feature rich in
atmosphere and detail. He continues, “Imagine a long deep in and exhale; at
first you take in the worry, loneliness, memories and void of retirement that
the mother is experiencing and as the film enters Hong Kong, you let it all out,
and you move on, you engage with a new world and its characters and you find
calm and a bit of positivity. I want to achieve this feeling of calm through
formal expression: slow pace, unhurried images and subtle but expressive sound
design that make the film an exercise in seeing, in attention, in finding
beauty in the ordinary.”
Currently based in Freiburg, Germany, Jonas Bak was born in Konstanz in 1985 and studied film directing at Edinburgh College of Art, before moving to London in 2015 and
then Hong Kong in 2018, where he worked as a freelance film director and
director of photography. He has written and directed two short films, WANDERDRACHEN (2016) and ONE AND MANY (2017), both of which were screened at international film festivals including Molodist, Curtacinema Rio de Janeiro and Pacific
Meridian. WOOD AND WATER (2020) is his first feature film.