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(Credit: BBC)


Manic dancing and coronavirus hysteria in Jonathan Glazer's latest short film 'Strasbourg 1518'

Strasbourg 1518

Where Gal Godot and friends imagined a new world of unity and peace post-quarantine with a painful lack of self-awareness, Jonathan Glazer’s new short film Strasbourg 1518 expresses the hysteria, energy and catharsis that have come as a result of isolation. Both Gal Gadot and Jonathan Glazer’s films work together in a bizarre, hilarious double feature. An artefact of the year 2020, reflecting two sides of quarantined contemplation. 

Among the many hysterical events that occurred throughout the middle-ages, the involuntary mania of dance which plagued the city of Strasbourg in 1518, is certainly among the most bizarre and most curious. When a woman began to spontaneously lurch and frenetically dance in the streets she was soon joined by passers-by, accumulating an involuntary flash mob of people 400-strong which would soon take the life of 15 individuals, many dying through sheer exhaustion. 

Such is the subject of Jonathan Glazer’s latest short film, an addition to his growing contemporary commentaries following 2019 effort The Fall. Here, Glazer reflects on the five months of unprecedented social isolation that have come as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, with the context of 1518 Strasbourg hanging transparent in the background.  

Mania transcends time as dancers exhibit frenetic contortion, encased within the four white walls of their standard apartment rooms. Driven by an invisible force, they are possessed, slapping themselves onto walls, falling to the floor and twisting their bodies. It radiates an urgent frenzied energy that speaks to the absurd insanity inherent within every one of us. 

Collaborating again with composer Mica Levi, the score works in perfect tandem with the on-screen catharsis, a demanding pulse that seems to mimic scratches on the very walls of the room or a wet stroke across a closed window. It’s a soundtrack that rocks you, either stiffening you with rigid anxiety or a desperate need to jerk and propel your limbs—epitomising two states of quarantine reaction. 

The same sense of mystery and chaos that surrounded the city of Strasbourg in 1518, is felt here in 2020, and in Jonathan Glazer’s latest work. The coronavirus pandemic has felt unreal, a strange otherworldly phenomenon that is usually reserved for science fiction. Just like the current virus, Glazer’s film doesn’t reach a conclusion either, for just a short moment one of the dancers speaks, saying: “Every morning when I wake up, for 10 seconds I am free”. Perhaps a reference to the strange myth that circulated back in March 2020, a perpetual countdown to an unknown conclusion, or maybe just complete nonsense. As we each watch on, separated from each other and reality, maybe we’re all just going mad.

Watch Strasbourg 1518 right here on BBC iPlayer.