Reviewer's Rating 4 out of 5  
The Ister (2004)

A philosophical investigation in to the nature of being and time, covering everything from palaeontology to the Internet to genocide, The Ister is the challenging debut film from Australian philosophy students David Barison and Daniel Ross. Taking the 1942 lectures of German thinker Martin Heidegger and the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin as their starting point, the pair travel along the Danube river ("The Ister") as a series of contemporary European philosophers discuss their relationship to Heidegger's work.

Erudite and initially rather imposing, The Ister presupposes some knowledge of Heidegger, as philosophers Bernard Stiegler, Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg chat independently about one of his most influential themes: the impact of technology on memory, culture and historical identity. Armed with a PhD and a digital movie camera, Barison and Ross trace Heidegger's ill-fated links to Nazism (the philosopher served as rector of Freiburg University from 1933-1934 and delivered his lectures on Hölderlin in 1942 as the Nazis were drawing up plans for the Final Solution) as they evaluate his pivotal role in modern thought.


The film's masterstroke is the Danube river trip undertaken by the filmmakers, as the winding route allows them to expand the film beyond the merely academic, taking in the impact of NATO bombing raids on Yugoslavia, former Nazi concentration camps, and lessons in ancient history stretching back to Greek and Roman times. Journeying across the continent, the antipodean filmmakers create a series of bridges between past and present as they outline Heidegger's understanding of the way in which being and identity emerge from historical circumstances.

As a metaphor for the ebb and flow of time, the river's a brilliant choice, recalling the stately desolation of Harvey Keitel's Balkan trip in Theo Angelopoulos's Ulysses Gaze as it collapses European geography and history into a continuous here and now. An impressive philosophical exercise and a meditative work of cinematic beauty.

In French and English with subtitles.

End Credits

Director: David Barison, Daniel Ross

Writer: David Barison, Daniel Ross

Stars: Bernard Stiegler, Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

Genre: Documentary

Length: 189 minutes

Cinema: 24 September 2004

Country: Australia

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