You Have to Try Very Hard to Appreciate Angela Schanelec’s Music


An Oedipal tale for the modern age, director Angela Schanalec blends formalism and abstract formlessness in Music (2023). 

Jon (Aliocha Schneider) grows up in the Greek mountains, raised by the paramedic who rescued him as an infant. When he’s 20 years old at the beach with his friends, he inadvertently kills a man. For this, he is sent to prison, where he falls in love with one of the female wardens, Iro (Agathe Bonitzer), who seems to have an instinctual desire to take care of him. The two have a daughter together, Phoebe (Frida Tarana and Ninel Skrzypczyk), and live in happiness together – until she discovers his parentage, with tragic consequences.

That’s the plot synopsis of Music. But to be honest, that’s making the film sound like it has much more of a narrative than it actually does. 

In fact, if you didn’t know beforehand that it was inspired by the Greek drama of Oedipus, you would be forgiven for not having that element of the story come through at all. Schanalec seems much more interested in creating impressive imagery – which she absolutely does – than developing a coherent narrative. But her visual style is as unforgivingly rigid and self-aware as it is beautiful. Although its nice to look at, Music — featuring very little dialogue — is hard work to follow along with. 

Schanalec is seemingly allergic to closeup shots or developing any sort of emotional intimacy with her characters through the camera, so the entire production ends up very presentational. It’s difficult to care about any of these people. Her actors are little more than props in a cinematic tableau. It gets a burst of energy whenever Jon gets an opportunity to sing: Schneider has a lovely voice, providing the only time the film is capable of eliciting an emotional reaction from the audience. Otherwise, the film borders on the self-indulgent, with shots that linger well past their welcome, Schanalec filling it with stilted set pieces that only occasionally work.

Music is a very specific type of film, one that audiences are really going to love or hate. There are definitely plenty of people who will connect with the beauty of her imagery, treating it more as an art piece than traditional cinema. And if that directorial approach has worked for you in the past, you might just love it. 

But if you tend to like your films with some sense of narrative cohesion and, you know, characters who talk to one another occasionally, Music is probably going to feel like a slog. Regardless of how you ultimately view the film, you have to give Schanalec credit for having such a unique directorial voice – for better or worse, this is a thoroughly singular cinematic experience.

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Audrey Fox is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic and a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, with bylines at, /Film, The Nerdist, Looper, amongst others.