Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Day Three

The co-directors of this maritime documentary hail from Harvard's Sensory Ethnogoraphy Lab, and it's hard to think of a more fitting phrase to describe their work here. We are thrust directly into the action of a fishing boat off the coast of Massachusetts, and it takes quite awhile to get our bearings. Which way is up? Is that a fish, or a man's arm? Over the course of 90 minutes, the audience is never given any more context than can be gleaned from watching, and listening, to what's been captured. No explanations are given, there is no narration. Most of the audible English comes from an unseen television late in the film.

This is literally "hard to watch". The cameras themselves are constantly in motion, some seemingly strung on a wire below the water. The effect of the experience can be overwhelming and bewildering. But it leaves the impression that the entire system, the boat, the fish, the birds, the men, and the sea, are all part of a single organism.

In the Fog
Set in Belarus during the Nazi occupation of World War II, this is a simple story told in a studied, methodical way. It touches on the sociology of collaboration, of the ties and breakdowns of family, and even of the possibility for strength, both of character and of body (there are several long takes in which one man carries another as they make their way through the forest). Altogether, it's an impressive work, and one much more accessible than its director's previous work that screened here, My Joy.

Hailed by the festival's programmers as a good companion piece to the above, and as a film featuring a strong female protagonist, I couldn't help but come away from this disappointed. The storytelling is straightforward (a prostitute has a kid, finds a father for him, and endures hardship), and though perhaps the extended middle sequence in Siberia is meant to transfer its tedium onto the audience, the experience is sub-optimal. As for the "strong female", her strength is displayed mostly by her willingness to bare her body. The framing device, in which the film is told as a flashback being explained to the protagonist's son, only serves to drag out the narrative without shedding light on the subject matter.

No comments: