Credit: Film Movement Plus
by Morris Yang Film

The Lobby — Heinz Emigholz

October 18, 2022

The Lobby’s punishing perspective and comical presentation make for a wryly self-deprecating inquiry into death and all things philosophical.

“There is no here here” — so encapsulates the thematic and ontological dimensions of Heinz Emigholz’s wryly self-deprecating latest. A consistently infuriating and possibly even glib attempt at psychoanalysis, The Lobby entraps its viewers within an impossible game of dialectics, pitting bombastic pronouncements and logorrheic musings against ringing silence. Its sole character, an old white male literally credited as such, is the issuer of said pronouncements: he haunts the purgatorial vacuums of various lobbies and holding areas, speaking to an invisible and unresponsive audience despite knowing the futility of doing so.

Old White Male (John Erdman, a recent collaborator with Emigholz in Streetscapes [Dialogue] and The Last City) is ostensibly dying or already dead, but his thoughts on the subject are very much alive. Their scope knows no limits, and from the evils of metaphysics to the metaphysics of evil comes an alphabet soup of disembodied reflections, adages, inquiries: on Nazism, sexual encounters, consumerism, physical decay, performance, white-coated doctors, and so on. Everything points, one way or another, to death, the “eternal presence”; for Old White Male, the popular fixation on merely dying neglects the unsentimental majesty of Death. His Heideggerian half-truths belie a poisonous cynicism that resists interrogation — anticipating our criticisms and replies, he admonishes us through the camera: “You have no say because you are not dying.”

The Lobby bears a curious resemblance to Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, though the latter’s emotional investments must not be overstated relative to the clinically detached abstractions Emigholz painstakingly constructs through his cantankerous foul mouth. Both films are brilliant exercises in existential solipsism, thrust into meandering circularity and self-doubt; where Kaufman traverses the interpersonal realm, Old White Male contends with the larger failings of the century and his dysfunctional stature within, one presumably soon-to-be obsolete. Consistent with Emigholz’s architectural oeuvre is the film’s spatial awareness: while shot in various locations around Buenos Aires, Old White Male’s verbiage spews uninterrupted, his sentences stretching across cuts between different rooms, corners, angles, and directions with glossy naturalism. The lobby adopts a twofold ontology, both as a liminal space between life and death — purgatory — and a mental headspace wherein we, the imagined interlocutor, are viewed as an affront to its incendiary honesty.

Emigholz neither worships nor dismisses Old White Male, or The Lobby would never have been made, not least in its present monologue form. Its true focus lies less in the contents delivered and more in their delivery. The didactic privilege embodied by his decidedly unwelcoming character is both punishing and comical, and could serve multiple purposes: as a diagnosis of depression, an antidote to it, or a recognition of the director’s essentially limited perspective on world-reaching issues. Whether this attracts or repulses the viewer is hard to say. One thing for sure: Bruno Ganz would make a friendlier Virgil.

Published as part of NYFF 2020 — Dispatch 5.