Complete first drafts written for In Review Online.
Dear Chantal After something of a breakout with last year’s delightful meta feature Fauna, Nicolás Pereda returns with “Dear Chantal,” a short created as part of the “Las cartas que no fueron también son” project, an omnibus initiative by the Punto de Vista International Documentary Film Festival that commissioned eight well known filmmakers, including Deborah Stratman, Raya Martin, Lynne Sachs, Jessica Sarah Rinland, and Pereda, to make a “cinematic homage to a colleague they have never personally met.” As can be guessed, Pereda’s was the great Chantal Akerman, for whom he fashioned a curious, distinct tribute. Running an exceptionally compact five minutes, it consists solely of supposed letters written to Akerman by Pereda concerning the temporary rental to her of his sister’s two-bedroom house in Mexico City. Her responses are never heard, only intimated, as this hushed voiceover plays out over images of Pereda’s sister Catalina slowly furnishing the bare house, sweeping leaves off the skylight, and placing books and a painting within the abode, as the latter of which, an abstract swirl of light blue and deep read, becomes a focal point. With these stripped down parameters — Akerman’s replies are never heard, though they are certainly hinted at in Pereda’s letters — “Dear Chantal” emphasizes above all the underpinning emotions behind the fundamental stillness in a way both reminiscent of Akerman and starkly different: the consciously posed close-ups feel more akin to Bresson than the wide shots that typify the Belgian director’s work, although a brief still of her in Je, tu, il, elle at the beginning of the film. Amid the mundanity of water filters and converting the second bedroom into an office, Pereda mentions in passing that Catalina has had some difficulties in the past, and it’s certainly significant, and at least a little moving, that the last line and shot goes to her. The Capacity for Adequate Anger Vika Kirchenbauer effectively established herself on the international experimental scene with her short “Untitled Sequence of Gaps,” from last year, an intriguing rumination on varieties of light and how they inflect understanding of societal traditions. With “The Capacity for Adequate Anger,” that sensibility has been noticeably sharpened, pairing a distinctive set of stills with more directly personal narration. One cornerstone of her style is the narration: though she is German, Kirchenbauer narrates her films in English with a tremulous accent that inherently connotes a certain fragility and uncertainty, which strongly influences the affect of her words. Here, the words concern her upbringing and her anxieties over her art practice, perspective, and her interpersonal relationships, including with her father and grandmother. The connections that she draws are frequently startling: a throughline about AIDS connects her childhood adoration of Freddie Mercury, Magic Johnson’s temporary retirement from basketball, and a dental inspection. These musings are augmented by a wide variety of still images, including of childhood drawings, mass media photos, and posed art pictures, along with the sole, unusual source of moving images: a childhood fantasy cartoon of unknown provenance. While loosely sectioned, as signaled by a recurring ambient music cue, “The Capacity for Adequate Anger” maintains a certain flowing train of thought, which ensures a spontaneity to the subjects broached. More than a conceptual boldness, it is in Kirchenbauer’s paradoxical assuredness that the disparate elements will connect together: the title phrase is uttered twice, once in relation to the AIDS epidemic and once regarding her uneasy relationship with her father. Such a stark yet elusive phrase provides a useful, fitting summary of the fascinating elements of this ambitious work, full of information without feeling dense. Inner Outer Space Laida Lertxundi has cemented her reputation as one of the foremost active short filmmakers with films that maintain a certain relaxed California mood while suggesting a whole constellation of potential associations. With “Inner Outer Space,” that methodology is effectively made literal, as it consists of three fairly distinct shorts which together function as an elliptical, intriguing exploration of a new setting for Lertxundi: her native Basque. In truth, four parts might be a more accurate description, as the short begins with a series of miniature installations comprised of images fastened to cardboard, with one piece resembling a television screen. Afterwards, a brief, fragmentary exchange between two women takes place via subtitles, followed by them looking at a series of sills printed on paper, which briefly take life as their own cutaway shots. Without a discernible transition, the second short seems to begin, as people are led blindfolded to a secluded cliff and asked to first describe their surroundings without looking at them, and then draw the area. Following an unexpected presentation of the credits in full, the final short unfurls in one shot, as two women in swimsuits sway with their backs to the camera in front of projected images of waves. As might be gathered, the ultimate point of connection in “Inner Outer Space” lies in the processing and manifestation of mental images, and Lertxundi’s ability to evoke these connections so glancingly forms a key part of her work’s appeal. While the obvious fragmentation means that the typical fluidity of her films is somewhat muted here, a sense of unity ultimately prevails: in the warm 16mm, the skillful deployment of cut-ins, the mystery of the precise meanings of each individual section, which of course is entirely the point. “The red filter is withdrawn.” Kim Min-jung’s “The red filter is withdrawn.” draws upon a host of spirits from the past throughout its deceptively minimal construction. After a brief introduction with three strobing colored rectangles, the film settles into its main focus: various natural and man-made structures on Jeju Island in South Korea, including military bunkers and craggy caves. While the locale appears to be calm, the credits indicate a darker side: the island was inhabited by Imperial Japan, and acted as the site of the infamous April 3 Incident, in which thousands of Communist insurgents were killed in the lead-up to the Korean War. While this history would be compelling by itself, and indeed does become more apparent towards the end of the short with images of graveyards and flags, Kim grafts on another fascinating element: Hollis Frampton’s performance piece “A Lecture.” Throughout “The red filter is withdrawn.”, Kim intersperses subtitles written in both Korean and English from the lecture, which posits that the white rectangle of light that forms the essence of the projected cinema image has existed long before and will continue long after any given person’s life. Correspondingly, the film finds intriguing correspondences within these landscapes, most clearly the bright sunlight shining through large square holes in the caves. Over these images, shot in what appears to be some mix of digital and 16mm, are laid certain effects, including, yes, a red filter, which casts the verdant grass in an entirely new light. “The red filter is withdrawn.” properly ends with Frampton’s exhortation to discuss films in darkness, but Kim’s use of numerous other sources suggests a more suitably ambiguous, complex, and ongoing discourse centered on elements hidden just below the surface.