Angela Schanelec’s Marseille begins with a close-up shot of a female driver seen from behind. The driver asks her passenger three questions, all of which are answered “no.” “Where is it,” “Do you know your way round,” and “Is there a map in there?”
Marseille stars Maren Eggert as Sophie, a young photographer who exchanges her apartment with a student from Marseille. Transplanted in an unfamiliar city, Sophie wanders the landscape, taking photographs and milling about. She strikes up a relationship with a mechanic and finds pleasure in how little they know about one an other. Later, she returns home to Berlin where her former life confronts her.
With long-takes punctuated by silence, Schanelec draws extreme attention to the visual details of the film—the composition of the frame, the gestures of her actors, and the distance of her camera. Placed within this observatory framework, the three questions at the start of Marseille consequently become questions on how to watch the film.
Schanelec allows the images to speak for themselves, transforming both herself and the audience into observers. In turn, the camera’s gaze and our own become voyeuristic. To return towards the beginning of the film the camera’s proximity creates both a sense of intimacy but also that of being an outsider, peering into the world of the film’s characters. The driver stops to buy a guide book and she when exits the car, Schanelec’s camera pans from within, tracking her movement.
Schanelec regularly positions the camera in the frame of windows, doorways, and other obstacles: people’s shoulders, the edge of a bush or tree, or the architecture of the city. The intimacy felt by the voyeuristic aspects of the camera are undermined by its immutable cold gaze. We will never know Sophie.