Andreas Kaufmann’s Seine Spur tells the story of a young man discovering his mysterious origins.
The orphaned Andries Seiler receives a mysterious letter—a postcard with a picture of a seaside cabin signed by Niels Weiland along with an old iron key. He traces the origins of the card and finds the pictured cabin. There, he wallows amongst the forgotten objects within and discovers something strange—a photo of himself as a young boy. From there, Andries goes on a journey of self-discovery, hoping to find out the nature of his true origins. He encounters many odd people: a neighbor who tells him of the reclusive old sailor who previously occupied the cabin and a sinister man in the night. Andries experiences pain and angst as he tries to put the pieces together of how he came to be orphaned and who sent him the iron key.
The cinematography in Seine Spur is truly breathtaking. From the opening aerial shot of Andries running on the tracked sand by the sea, the audience is utterly captivated. The film utilizes many aerial shots of landscapes and the people within them, yielding dimensional effects. The shots emphasize the smallness of people within the scene, the landscape the dominant feature. The vastness and beauty of the landscapes are evocative of the sublime, a concept from Romantic art that involves losing one’s self in the immensity of the natural landscape. There is beauty but also fear. Notably, Andries must first be lost in the landscape around him before he can discover the truth about his origins. The contrasting close-ups on people and objects reflect this undulation between the intensely personal and the grandiose. Further, the technique perfectly conveys Andries’ feeling that he is being watched, making each shot both beautiful and eerie. Shots of Andries within the cabin are also taken from above, continuing this feeling of surveillance.
The cabin Andries discovers and occupies contains many strange objects: a miniature light house, a record player, a rotary phone, an old notebook, a rusty type writer, and a haunting black and white photo of an old sailor. Andries seems to be transported to a past era within the cabin, encapsulated most by the beautiful transition from the spinning record to the rotating rotary phone. There is a strange comfort in it for him, but also something pained as he strains to understand how he fits in. The word nostalgia can be broken down into nostos, meaning ‘return home,’ and algos, meaning ‘pain, grief, distress.’ Indeed, it seems the cabin itself embodies this combination of feelings for Andries. Flashbacks intercut with the present add instability to the nostalgia—there are moments where the viewer doubts whether Andries is actually seeing something or if it is just another memory being transposed upon the landscape, waking dreams caused by his lack of sleep.
A notable feature of Seine Spur is the genre play between a classic bildungsroman and a horror film. Though the film focuses on Andries’ journey of self-discovery, the path leading there utilizes many tropes of horror films from the very call to action: a mysterious letter from an unknown sender. In the cabin, Andries finds a dirty bucket and a knife with dried blood; he’s visited by mysterious strangers who tell him terrifying stories, his phone line disconnects, and the lights within the cabin often flicker and go out. It seems at any moment a ghost is going to emerge from the cabin walls until realism reasserts itself. This is where the true genius of Seine Spur lies. It suggests that there is horror in unearthing the unknown—in a way, a ‘ghost’ does emerge, but rather than being some supernatural creature, it is Andries’ past. Siene Spur gets at an elemental truth: self-discovery can be just as terrifying as remaining in the dark.