Back in 1988, one year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tilda Swinton took her bike and cycled around the Berlin Wall, together with the filmmaker Cynthia Beatt. What they created came to be known as Cycling the Frame, and it’s a beautiful and surreal document that shows a city scarred by a wall that cut it in half.
The movie starts and ends at the Brandenburger Tor, this is where Tilda Swinton leads us into a journey that is a clash of feelings. Today, it’s almost impossible to recognize most of the places she has gone through. Sometimes you pick up a sign that points where the actress is. Sometimes you have to guess based on the size and shape of the buildings.
But the movie is more than this. It’s a document of a time gone by and a surreal portrait of a city that changed so much from the time that this movie was shot.
The first time that Tilda Swinton set foot in Berlin was back in 1986 for the Berlinale. A few years later she filmed Cycling the Frame as a personal journey with her friend Cynthia Beatt and the questions that they ask in the movie become even more critical one year later when the Berlin Wall comes to an end.
In the movie, Tilda Swinton cycles through fields, lakes and historic neighborhoods. And the Berlin Wall follows her everywhere she goes. A constant presence in the landscape but, at the same time, apart from it. The Wall cuts city blocks in half, it can be seen next to buildings. And it becomes almost a surreal element that turns everything into a depressing sight.
Tilda Swinton is not a passive agent in Cycling the Frame. She interacts with the Wall in ways that sound idyllically and almost whimsical. She reads poetry while she cycles. She takes a Polaroid picture of an East German guard tower and waves the image to the guards. She drinks wine by the lake with the Berlin Wall next to her. She picks up flowers under the vigilant eyes of the East German military.
Cycling the Frame is a historical document of a time gone by. When a wall was build in the middle of a European capital, scarred by the destruction of the Second World War. It’s even more powerful when you put in perspective that the Berlin Wall would fall only one year later. Yet, it looks so unbreachable in the movie. And it would disappear into the history books soon after.
Cycling the Frame was shot in the summer of 1988 and is the precursor to The Invisible Frame that was shot in 2009 and revisits the path that Cynthia Beatt and Tilda Swinton took. But, this time, without the wall. Together, they portray different eras poetically and beautifully.