Stars: Michael Balaun, Lucyna Bialy, Lisa Blaschke, Franziska Breite, Zübeyde Bulut | Written and Directed by Andreas Marschall
Everybody wears a mask to the world. We create an image that we want people to see and create a character that becomes our public face. Actors have, or at least hope they have the ability to change that mask to create a character for a film or a play and to make the watcher believe they are that different person, that they are going through some emotion that even if it’s alien to them in real life, it’s real to the character they play.
This is what Masks is about. The mask we wear and the masks that have to be created, and what does it take to fully lose the masks that are worn?
Stella is to all intents and purposes a failing actor, she believes she is playing the parts people want to see but her auditions are failing because she lacks the emotions that are being looked for. When she gets invited to the Matteusz Gdula private acting school she jumps at the chance, hoping that this will give her the push she looks for to improve her performance. Once she is at the school though she still finds that her performances are not good enough, so pushing for more she agrees to take part in special classes, to be taught a special method to improve her ability to put emotion into her performance.
Anybody who has seen Dario Argento’s Suspiria will instantly see the similarities in this film, not in terms of storyline of course but there are still similarities even in this. The school setting for example is obvious very much like Suspiria as is the bitchiness of the students to a newcomer and the ominous feeling that not all is as it seems. Masks though is more about metaphor where I found Suspiria to be very obvious as to its point. Of course Masks can be taken at face value but in my opinion you would miss half the meaning of what the film is trying to achieve. Of course it’s hard to not see the metaphor, even in the films name as in truth it hints at what the metaphor itself is.
Stella is a character who at the start of the film is failing because she has a lot of pain in her past, it brings great anger, it is a tool that she could use to be a better actress but she chooses to hide from this. This is arguably what makes her fail in her goals and her weakness which leads her to what is in ways her greatest achievement but her downfall too. The almost ghostly presence of Matteusz Gdula and the “special method” is an on-going theme throughout the story, his legend and that of the school which he created sets the backdrop of all that happens. We are given hints at what he did to his students and what they went through but we never truly know exactly what it is. This is one thing that keeps the film interesting, we are learning just as Stella is, although we of course see more of the events taking place than she does.
Masks is about manipulation and as stated, a metaphor. When Stella puts herself into the secret world behind the school she leads herself into the danger willingly, she wants to be the best actor she can be and will do anything she can to achieve this. Of course the results may not be what she expects and the film is good at creating the ominous feel that this is not going to end well. I enjoyed the way that the world around her become more surreal as she was pulled into the process of what she believed would be becoming a better actor, and she that she goes into this willingly, it is that desire to be better which is almost a greed.
This is a film that will divide audiences – those who decry the film, might see this at face value: a remake of Suspiria of sorts, and it can be seen even simpler (but that would push into plot and I try to stay away from spoilers) but I tend to disagree, I liked it. Taken at a metaphorical level it is a story that is much deeper, about emotions and an examination into the true “self” of an actor. Maybe not a classic, and somewhat divisive with its viewers it’s definitely one to watch for yourselves so you can decide.
Masks is out now as a 3-disc limited edition from Reel Gore Releasing.