The important thing is to convey heat. The camera is pointed directly into the sun before offering the viewer a wide shot down cliffs on to a villa and pool, below which are the sea’s waves. The colours are highly saturated and, amidst the blues and whites, the attentive viewer will notice the sportive reds and greens worn by Jean and Christophe as they work on the villa’s roof. In a second shot, the camera takes in the villa’s roof and the glass doors that open onto the pool. A close-up reveals that the boys are in their late teens and are wearing shorts and t-shirts. Soon the doors will slide open and, shot from the pool’s farthest corner, a slim, tanned woman in her early forties will walk the length of the pool in high-heels and a white two-piece swim-suit before laying down in a lounger facing the house.
At the moment though, the camera is not rolling, but awaits the entrance onto the poolside scene of Karin, currently in the villa where motivation is summoned and maquillage is re-touched. The camera itself is ministered to by its two attendants. Its cables require the hunched teamwork of a new form of insect life, ready to drag its prey back to a lair that can never be entirely left. Indifferent to this activity beside him is the mountainous presence of the late, and now impotent pornographer Jugen Lang, disgusted by his surroundings, his colleagues, but most of all his own failure.
It had been Lang’s art to delay and hasten men, in giggling company or utilitarian solitude, to climax. He was good but with digitizing of desire came its democratization. The bottom of the porn industry did not so much fall out, as prolapse, and Lang, like so many of his aging stars found himself self-consciously inadequate and irreparably damaged under the bright lights of an anonymous warehouse in bad part of town. For years Lang had woken in a sweat from dreams of anointed young flesh, ecstasy on the face and ejaculate on the webcam, the games of college dorms streaming into suburban basements. But where once there had been the grimace of simulated pleasure behind the smiles, there was now a smirk that implied paid tuition fees. Unable to raise capital, Lang was unable to raise even the quiver arousal.
These anxieties have spilt into his latest work which even now recalls his own youthful summers, spent labouring on the roofs of similar villas as the price of oil soared higher than the airliners seduced by beige A-lines accessorized with a Kalashnikov. Now, at a time when many of his peers, lured by the Russian Federation’s superabundance of youth and poverty, are producing unholies (boys, emaciated and grey, cigarettes emerging from their rectums) Lang has moved upscale into arthouse films. Such offerings are in any case poor imitations of the bespoke market where the perfect anguish of a handpicked child (a rival politician’s, perhaps) can be obtained and enjoyed.
A cultured man, Lang had put aside his Juvenal some years previously. The clean money, he felt, lay in gesturing to an image, a feeling known to the collective conscious but as yet not manifest, a child-star with a barbed-wire crown, Marie-Antoinette in ecstasy as the milk flows between her legs. All the latent clichés of popular culture.
As the space between director and audience has diminished, so too, according to Lang’s reasoning, has the distance between imagination and screen widened. It is for the director to show this space and for the audience to fill it with whatever he or she wants. Nevertheless, his departure from the industry, in which he was a figure of some stature, had not caused the stir he had hoped for. “For the past one hundred years cinema has satisfied the public’s fantasies. Now its task is to show them their dreams,” he had announced at a Hamburg trade convention. Foreclosure is his first venture into this new genre, but still, he cannot help thinking that this retracing of his youth is just another act of cowardice.
It is his decision to continue film-making outside of pornography that has brought him to this pointlessly frigid poolside on the edge of the Baltic which, due to the financial imperatives, stands in for the Mediterranean. His aim in Foreclosure is to capture Juan-les-Pins in the nineteen-seventies. Everything must conspire to this, and Lang’s choice of film stock has been meticulous, but as he gazes across the pool to a point where blue shades to grey he enlarges his bulk with the addition of a second coat, necessary to fend off the wind. Wishing to act his own part, he arranges a scarf in the style of a Hezbollah cell leader beneath an earflapped hat and sunglasses. The augmented layers give him the appearance of the last outpost of the Salvation Army. The scarf, though, is Hermes.
Even now he worries that the ebb-tide of the global finance will wrest this location from him and put an end to his filming. A fall in the price of oil, the collapse of a Bahamian hedge fund, either, anything, could see Taliya, a former star of his earlier productions, and now the mistress of a Russian oligarch, dismissed along with the villa and its gilt-edged tea-cups and piles of Swarovski. He glances nervously at his phone, but he knows that such financial collapse is unlikely to affect his filming. In any case, Taliya is not going to call him if, no, when, time or money decree her unnecessary. She is too smart to be sentimental, and while banks silently collapse into the vacuums of their inflated balance sheets, she will be making another diamond-laden trip to Zurich. Others, meanwhile, question the coming storm. “Are we falling?” they ask, and nervously recall the last recession, even the Depression. The terms do not compute though; prices rise, credit is short, but bills are paid and money flows, if more haltingly, stagnating in larger though more infrequent, pools. If this is a crash, Lang thinks, we seem not to have had the weight to fall.
Cowed by the world’s indifference to his aesthetic pronouncements, he is less vocal, and increasingly it is his wife and long-time assistant, Marta, a robust vision of Teuton cheer, who translates his lacunae into something more fungible. It was she who called upon Taliya to lend this retreat. Next week, she will be twisting the arm of an Austrian hotelier to provide the location which will trap early twentieth-century aristocrats in a mountain spa as war rages on plains beneath them. On set, his distaste of speaking directly to his cast has grown, and Marta is his joyously determined mouthpiece. With efficiency as assertive as the yellow and magenta of her scarf, she is on the roof rehearsing with Christophe, manipulating the curly-haired seventeen-year-old into a position of enigmatic desirability. “Most erotic,” she cries, ignoring the boy’s expression of pained reluctance.
With an echo of heels on marble, Lang sees that Karin is strutting towards the lounger and that the insect has left his side. She removes a fur coat and settles down for the close-up. Marta abandons the scowling Christophe, and struggles down the ladder from the roof, pausing to create a noose for her clipboards and pens with her scarf before marshalling the poolside activity.
“You must look erotic. And bored,” she booms in a deep, accented voice, after consulting the clipboard that contains her English vocabulary. Uncurling from her braced position, Karin shifts in the lounger. A retired exotic dancer for the politicians of Berlin, Marta’s request is easily fulfilled, and Karin assumes an expression identical to that which she wore when she took Lang’s own flaccid penis into her mouth. She recalls its cold inertness lying on her tongue, surprising, given the suffocating warmth of his body. The camera presses into her face. Sunglasses are removed and the prescribed gaze is dutifully offered to a roof-bound brace of boys. As tedious and as freezing as the occasion is this is the best offer she has had lately, better to freeze in Latvia than work the Tiergarten. She calls up to the boys invisibly working on the roof with a stock invitation to a drink and a swim. Inadvertently she scratches her left shin with her right foot as she speaks.
“Most erotic,” bellows Marta, with which, before Lang call an end to the shot, cast and crew break for lunch, dashing into the house to escape the cold.
Inside, despite the animated speech, there is no actual conversation. It has become the established practice to greet overtures in English, the only common language, with the disdain of willful incomprehension. Each member of cast and crew contrives at privacy by speaking into a mobile phone in his or her own mutually unintelligible language. In this one-sided Babel, Jean and Christophe are the exceptions, but they having eaten only cake, are in sugary fits as Jean re-applies Christophe’s tan. A trickle of saliva slides down the boy’s laughing chin, and Lang, incapable of desire, remembers filming this same child, laid out on a table, surrounded by fruit and masters of the universe. “These were your empty pleasures,” he thinks before ordering them all to the roof for the afternoon’s work, and wondering if he has ever seen anyone laugh in pornography.
The fake tan has been mixed with a gold solution to give the boys a radiant look. Once again the problem is the cold, now intensified by the sea breeze that is stiffer on the roof. These sungods must be seen to sweat as well be tanned. Water can be applied to good effect to their shirts, but these must come off and Lang wants close-ups of sweat-beaded stomachs against sky and sea. Water being too fluid for this, an oil-based solution is applied using olive oil misters of suburban kitchens. This brings its own problems and the oil corrodes the golden skin, revealing the chilly and pallid flesh beneath. To prevent this, the ever-present Marta has set aside her clipboard and has re-mounted roof. Armed with bottles of tan, spatulas, and a variety of brushes, she is attentive to the merest hint of grey, which will be vigourously obscured while the frigid boy in question stares determinedly at a distant patch of sea.
From his vantage point on the far side of the pool, Lang watches Marta harass the boys while the camera crew weaves trailing cables between them. A digital feed, his only concession to twenty-first-century technology, means that Lang is not required to ascend to the rooftop. Through the viewfinder he follows the length of Jean’s arm, the flat of his stomach just caught in the right of the frame. The image arrives at Jean’s hand as it works through the debris caught in the gutter. There is the glimpse of a pile of tiles on which rests a box of nails and a hammer, apparently in readiness for some minor repair. The notion that the hammer could be usefully employed by either one of these boys is absurd. Their lives consist in rejoicing in youthful vacuity, a perpetual diet of magazines, accessories, and the internet. It is Lang’s vision that later we will see Jean and Christophe’s beauty disintegrate as they labour. But this will only be the simulation of hard work. He wishes he could make it really happen. To see the skin of these boys torn on nails, to witness the anguish of souls crushed by the struggle with heavy and unfamiliar tools, that would be pornography.
Glancing up from the tiny screen, he sees the other boy clutching his arms to his body, as Marta busies herself with the mister. “You must look empty and erotic,” she screams, inches from his face. Such is the reality of Lang’s belief that only the truly vacuous can be truly beautiful. Jean, who has momentarily escaped this indignity, has pulled on a parka and is crouched down on the sloping roof. From beneath its hem his perineum is offered, apparently to anyone who might set up the necessary scaffolding. Encased in bright red shorts, it resembles a motorcyclist’s helmet. Lang, entranced by its firm and glorious promise, wonders how it will fare once the season’s bear market has got its claws into it. He never thought to fall back on his until it was too late. It might have been amusing. Thinking of Karin’s expression, he knows that it would not have been amusing. Now, he that repels even himself, he looks at the red bauble and finds it incredible that he was once in possession of such a body. He realizes now that as much as it might have been sold it could never have been bought, that youth is a promisory note, but one which can never be cashed. In his old films he sees that he only created his youthful summers as he would like to remember them – a sun-drenched celebration of erotic playfulness. Now, he finds himself on the edge of the Baltic re-creating the truth of those wasted summers and that all he has is the memory of a fantasy.
In the next shot Christophe will look at Jean, brown eyes looking into blue, but this reverie will be interrupted by a call off-camera from the supine Karin. Returning to Christophe’s eyes for a moment the audience will be teased by the possibility that the boys will not answer her call but fall into each others’ arms, right there on the roof. But as they saunter along the length of the roof and the audience think they are about to go to earnest work on Karin, the boys’ heads will turn to a second call, and the camera will follow their disconcerted gaze, cutting to a fourth, as yet unseen character. Dressed in blue overalls, he is the boys’ patron. He too is a figure from Lang’s teenage summers. He cycles, urgent and wheezing, up the dusty path to the villa to tell them to stop their work: the bank has foreclosed on the villa. Jean’s face furrows in dumb incomprehension, and the picture cuts to Karin protesting to a dark-suited man before an underwater shot of recently served documents floating on the surface of the pool.