When filmmakers use existing footage as a raw material for their work and subject it to, for example, physical and chemical processes, the original material’s narrative remnants resist deformation and abstraction, thereby producing a new subtext.
This is the case with Johannes Hammel’s three-part Jour Sombre. He employed home movies shot in the 1950s and ’60s, of trips into the mountains, hikes across a glacier, alpine huts and lakes.
We see groups of people spread out across the alpine landscape, in the background the dazzling white of the sun’s bright reflection from a glacier. Binoculars are pointed upward. At the sky, or the sun?
Then a bubble appears, filling the picture and virtually swallowing the landscape. There’s a glare, as if a ray of light reflected from the ice were burning directly into the camera lens or our retina. Other bubbles follow, and the entire scene begins to boil. Heinz Ditsch’s soundtrack encourages this unsettling scenario.
In the next part a swimming woman is harassed by nicks and scratches covering large areas, and what was originally idyllic becomes fractured and furrowed like dried clods of dirt. The soundtrack provides fitting crackling and scraping.
The entire film is black and white, as are the increasing number of chemical manipulations Hammel subjects his material to. At the same time he consciously dispenses with the rich color of dissolving emulsions and steers the spectator’s concentration toward the variety of forms created by the disintegration process. Because of the material selected and the motif of the image’s surface “warming up,” immediate references to contemporary reality suggest themselves, and “melting” becomes an allegory for global climate change.
Then, when in the third part the image of the idyllic alpine hut gradually melts away and small, amoeba-like particles crowd into the cracks and fissures produced as a result, associations with the evolution of new microorganisms in times of ecological change can no longer be ignored.