Erbarme Dich – Matthäus Passion Stories
With the help of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Ramón Gieling's Erbarme Dich explores the profound impact music has on people. The St Matthew Passion is, indeed, deeply rooted in Lutheran belief, yet one doesn’t have to share this specific experience of faith at all in order to be touched by the music. Director Peter Sellars captures this concisely in his statement: "It’s such an intense trajectory. To start with weeping, to weep in the middle, and at the end, to weep again…"
Gieling's documentary is structured like a collage. Aside from Peter Sellars, writer Anna Enquist, soprano Olga Zinovieva and choreographer Emio Greco appear with very personal stories, each of which bind them to Bach’s music. This intimate tone is ruptured by means of interspersed fleeting images from daily news which emphasize pain as a personal, yet universal experience. On one hand, the collage is held together as it follows the rehearsals of the St Matthew Passion as a central theme; they take place in a dilapidated Amsterdam church under the musical direction of conductor Pieter Jan Leusink, who invited the homeless choir De Straatklinkers to join. On the other hand, the film’s components are connected through Gieling’s very precise imagery, which is evocative of 17th-century Dutch painting.
The film doesn’t negate the religious roots of the Passion but it strikingly shows how this music, by its very nature, passes over the boundaries of its origin. This is probably the meaning of John Berger’s words: “Without the persistence of this hope, songs would not exist. Songs lean forward.”
Ramón Gieling (b. 1954, the Netherlands) was educated in visual art. He was founder of the journal Wolfsmond (1967-1987), a mouthpiece for writers, filmmakers and composers. Gieling’s body of work consists of feature films, short films, documentaries and theatre plays. His documentary Erbarme Dich – Matthäus Passion Stories premiered at IFFR 2015.