Documentary about Peter Stamm and his novel “In a dark blue hour”. – Culture
They sit across from each other in a bare room, the author and the filmmaker. Next to her the cameraman. He has one last question: “Peter, which aspects would not have been in your novel if we hadn’t been there?” Peter Stamm, the author, thinks for a moment, and as he does so he has that mischievous smile that we know from him. “You are my characters. I invented you. That’s why you’re always there automatically.” Strange looks. Trunk laughs to himself. Cut and end of the film.
How do you find your way into this hall of mirrors that the Swiss writer Peter Stamm has built around himself, his characters and his new novel? The directors Arne Kohlweyer and Peter Isenmann have made a film, an alleged one documentary with the title “Interplay”, which premieres on January 19 at the Solothurn Film Festival. The original idea was to accompany Peter Stamm in the creation of a new novel. But the author was faster than the planning for the shooting: when they began, the novel must have been as good as finished. So the documentary became a semi-fictional adaptation of a novel.
“In a Dark Blue Hour”, Stamm’s eighth novel, will be released in time for the author’s 60th birthday on January 18, 2023 and tells the story of writer Richard Wechsler, who is accompanied by a film crew while he works on a novel. In Paris, where Wechsler lives, he is filmed walking along the banks of the Seine. You travel to your home village in the Switzerland, talks to childhood friends. But nothing really wants to come out of it, because Wechsler increasingly refuses to do the silly dance around his person, so that Andrea, the filmmaker and first-person narrator of “In a dark blue hour”, has to rely on guesswork and her imagination.
Is the invention at the same time a lie and therefore a morally reprehensible act?
The film fails in the novel, but the plot continues because Andrea develops a relationship with Wechsler’s childhood sweetheart that goes beyond the professional. In a phase of contemporary literature in which autofictional writing is at its peak (and thus possibly also at the beginning of a crisis), Peter Stamm opens himself and his work to the existential questions of the fictional in a surprising and convincing manner: who has in the process of Inventive power over whom? Is the invention at the same time a lie and therefore a morally reprehensible act? How immovable and rigid are judgments about people or characters once they have solidified? Or, to put it very simply: What do you actually know about an artist when you believe you have penetrated their work?
Peter Stamm ignites the framework of the genre with some joy by putting provocative sentences into the mouth of his alter ego Wechsler: “All this autobiographical, autofictional stuff, what’s the point of it? This feigned authenticity that is more mendacious than any invention could ever be. One never lies so shamelessly as when one tells about oneself.” In the consciousness of the first-person narrator Andrea, the levels of reality blur into a space of potential stories: It could have been like this. Or not.
The great skill that speaks from “In a dark blue hour” consists in the irony and self-irony, the willingness to expose oneself and in the ease with which Peter Stamm tells the story. Already in his previous novels he worked with mirror and doppelganger motifs; not as virtuosic as in this one, however. The effect is striking: the more Stamm surrounds his character as a writer with doubts and ambiguities, the more clearly he appears as a strong and confident author. In a subtly sophisticated novel, the writer, as a voice and as a person, takes a back seat to the text. Not the artist, but his work has a life of its own.
Like the “Interplay” film, which thrives on Stamm’s facial expressions, “In a dark blue hour” is extremely funny at times, but so carefully balanced that the seriousness behind it is never lost. Peter Stamm’s new novel may be the best possible starting point for the late work of a writer who is often underestimated because of the laconic nature of his sentences.
Trunk now adopts a different tone; his movements are swinging, airy, hypotactic. There is no question that Stamm takes its subject matter seriously: Wechsler says that you write with your whole body, which is wasted in the process. The two documentary filmmakers in “Interplay” are actors who bear the names of their characters in the novel, Andrea and Tom. Wechsler’s best-known novel, on the other hand, is similar in content to Stamm’s novel “On a Day Like This”. The resolution for “In a dark blue hour” comes from Fernando Pessoa, the writer of all people who invented a variety of writing identities for himself, including different styles and precisely worked out biographies: “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.” Supposedly Pessoa’s last sentence, written the night before his death.
He doesn’t know how he can continue writing after this novel, says Peter Stamm at the end of “Interplay”: It’s about giving everything in every book. Richard Wechsler describes novels as unreasonable demands, the images of which creep into the head; than brain surgery. In the case of “In a Dark Blue Hour” we are dealing with a successful intervention.