Penumbra Julian Rosefeldt


How does the past of a far future look like? Whereto mankind will be driven by the forces of neoliberalism, climate change, populism, and self exploitation by social media? The film Penumbra is not science fiction. Instead it shows where we stand right now in a fictitious setting which offers the framework for a paradoxical enigma: Who will we be when we are gone?

Following In the Land of Drought, 2015/17, the condensed version of my filmic interpretation of Joseph Hayden’s oratorio The Creation, the new work Penumbra originates in a film work which I am currently producing as a visual backdrop for a performance of Robert Schumann’s oratorio Scenes from Goethe’s Faust at the opera houses of Antwerp, Ghent and Montpellier.

For his two key works of German literature, Faust: A Tragedy, Part I and II (1808–1832), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe created a visionary protagonist. The character of the scientist and entrepeneur Dr. Faust anticipated the big issues of our time: capitalism, post- colonialism, the exploitation of nature, and environmental disasters. Robert Schumann chose a few fragments of Goethe’s masterpiece and composed music for it. For my filmic adaptation I fragmented the romantic composition and used it as a soundtrack.

Same as the 43-minute In the Land of Drought, Penumbra focusses on the „After us“, and addresses the relationship between man and his impact on the world, looking back from an imagined far future upon the post-Anthropocene – the aftermath of significant human influence on our planet. This time, mankind has seemingly left Earth for good, trying its luck on a faraway unknown hyper-urbanized desert planet. But again, apparently things did not go well at that extraterrestrial colony and only some hectically built space settlements seem to grant shelter. On the planet’s surface we see abandoned megacities in a dystopian landscape and artificial circular plantations, positioned in the desert around the cities in order to nourish their last inhabitants. The camera hovers meditatively over the desolate landscape and the ruined megapolises. Connoting surveillance, the satellite’s / drone’s / bird’s eye view removes human perspective with us onlookers kept at a distance throughout.


Produced by Opera Ballet Vlaanderen
Co-produced by Fondazione In Between Art Film and Sammlung Wemhöner
Parts of the computer-generated segment were produced at the Animationsinstitut of Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg