Indie Flicks: Atelier, A Workshop for the Soul
Written and directed by Elsa Maria Jakobsdottir, Atelier, is a short film that tells the story of a young woman who needs a very private retreat. The film opens with a shot of three sheep. The shots of sheep continue throughout the film and while this may seem like a mundane detail, by the end you learn that perhaps it is more important than expected. We soon meet the main character of the film and learn that she is going to be staying at a mysterious man named Daniel's home, located somewhere very remote. Surrounded by a red wall that can only be opened with a code, the house seems to be the perfect place to go to for solitude, which is exactly what the young woman seems to want.
Upon entering what feels like a modern studio utopia, one of the first elements of the home noticed are the giant floor to ceiling windows, a detail that gave me a feeling of anxiety throughout the film. Each time the camera points toward the window, it feels like something is going to be there that should not be. On her first day at the house, she makes a phone call to Daniel but gets his machine. The owner of the home and his relationship to the girl remain unknown.
On what seems to be the girl's first night in the house, another woman enters. The woman walks inside and dismisses the girl quickly by saying, "Daniel didn't tell me anyone else would be here," and then walks away down a long hallway leaving nothing but muddy footprints behind. The girl is annoyed by this unexpected house-guest and calls Daniel to try and find out who she is. A strange woman answers Daniel's phone and very suspiciously tells the girl that Daniel cannot talk right now.
We soon learn that the uninvited woman is an experimental sound artist and the first time we see and hear her work is just about when the girl has had enough. She finally confronts the woman, tells her that she is working on a "personal project" and that she needs to keep the noise down. The woman was kind enough, apologizes, and continues to do her work using headphones. Although the girl seemed to be annoyed with her house-guest in the beginning, she soon becomes curious. She enters the room that the woman is in and begins to ask her questions about her work. The woman simply lays her down, puts the headphones on her and tells her to listen. While we, unfortunately, do not hear what is playing on the other side of the headphones, it seems to be a magical experience for the girl.
It is apparent from the introduction of the characters that the woman is much more laid back and less uptight than the girl. We see this in full effect during the sauna scene. The girl is sitting in the sauna alone, towel tightly wrapped around her. The woman enters with a beer in each hand, one for the girl and one for herself, and immediately takes off of her towel, leaving her naked. She lays her head back and lounges while the girl sits across from her, sitting upright and towel still wrapped tight. The girl even begins to make small talk, which leads to a deeper conversation involving what the girl wishes she were good at. Without answering, the girl simply removes her own towel, leaving her naked as well. Perhaps this was the girl's way of saying she wished she could be more laid back, just like the woman.
The following morning, the girl feels as though a new friendship has been formed but upon entering her room, she finds her with a man, the chauffeur from the beginning of the film. Just as their first encounter, the woman quickly dismisses the girl by saying, "can you give us a moment, please." For a reason that is unknown to the viewer, this sparks something in the girl. Perhaps jealousy? Perhaps annoyed that the one unwanted house-guest turned into two? We do not quite know what it is but a shift in the mood is most definitely felt. The girl attempts one more phone call to Daniel and is told by the same woman that "Daniel is not speaking to her," (the girl) and to "figure it out on her own." The girl does just that. The woman keeps all of her audio equipment in a room down the hall from the bathroom. The girl decides to turn on the bathtub and let the water run until the tub is overflowed and water is headed straight to the audio equipment.
It is revealed while the two are sharing goodbyes that the woman does not know that the girl was responsible for the destruction of her equipment. It is only in the woman's final moments on screen do we see her face overcome with suspicion and then realization.
At last, the girl finally has the peace and quiet she has been longing for. That night, the girl's first alone in the house, she hears a strange sound coming from outside. She goes out to investigate and finds a sheep, which we are lead to believe is normal until it turns it's head, revealing glowing, yellow eyes.
An atelier is another word for a workshop used by an artist. I feel as if the house was the atelier for both guests. Because so many loose ends have been left untied, it is hard to know exactly what the girl was there for other than the solitude that she so desperately longed for. Perhaps she went there to work on herself, her "personal project," just as the woman went there to work on her art. Perhaps the girl went there to face her demons, which she quite literally did. In only 30 minutes, we are taken on a complicated internal journey with the girl and the end leaves so much up to interpretation that you can't help but to want more.