The Ister is a 2004 film directed by Aussies David Barison and Daniel Ross. It is a documentary that takes the form of a three hour journey up the Danube River from Romania to the Black Forest in Southern Germany. The film itself takes as its starting point a 1942 lecture given by Martin Heidegger on a poem by Friedrich Hölderlin. The poem’s subject? The Danube. The filmmakers turn to the philosophers Bernard Stiegler, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, as well as controversial German filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg (who directed Hitler: A Film From Germany in 1978) for commentary on Heidegger and his lecture, and how his philosophy interacted with his involvement with National Socialism in the 1930′s. The filmmakers weave the commentary in with their visual study of the Danube, making connections to Heidegger’s thought along the way.
There is a very insightful and in-depth review of the film at Senses of Cinema by Carloss James Chamberlin. Not only does he review the film, but he talks at great length about the philosophers involved with the film and about Heidegger, making insightful connections and interpretations throughout.
Heidegger was openly hostile to the modern tyranny of the visual – with his peasant affectations, he liked to hear things and he loved to “grasp” them, and finally let them shine in “saying”. The idea that people of the future would try to think Being with a video camera surely would have made him heave. Except in a few unguarded moments, Heidegger tended to think about technology in uncharacteristically platonist and generic terms. The phenomenon of film did not interest him in the least. Two young and brave Australian filmmakers, undaunted by the danger, have made an historic film that does extraordinary justice to Heidegger’s thought during what is, perhaps, his most vulnerable existential moment on the planet.
The Ister is a river journey from the mouth of the Danube in Romania, through the war shattered “former Miss Yugoslavia”, into Hungary, Austria and finally into Germany, to the source of the Danube. The river becomes a perfect staging place for the rich and suggestive effluvial flow of history and landscape, a reading of an obscure poem by a madman named Hölderlin, an evocation of a dense and cryptic meander-commentary on the poem, by Heidegger, and the occasion of a commemorative dialogue by three French philosophers and a blacklisted Prussian artist with the ghost of Martin Heidegger.
(Senses of Cinema is also an indespensible resource for any film buff, so if you haven’t checked it out before, let this be an introduction)
Draggin’ The River: The Ister