Sunday, November 27, 2011


A room lit brightly by indirect sunlight. A man is masturbating while standing up. He's having trouble. Suddenly a woman rises from a supine position and asks if he wants help. He declines. Suddenly,we're in the kitchen of a busy restaurant. The man from the previous scene is the chef. A middle aged woman enters the kitchen and angrily calls him a selfish arsehole. Suddenly, he's in a car, misjudges a turn and another car rams into his sending it into a spin, he revolves before our eyes pummelled by restaurant supplies, fruit, meat etc. All quite beautiful but what means it all?

Well that's the point for the next two or so hours. Incomplete and intentionally illfitting jigsaw puzzle pieces gradually forming a portrait of a man struggling with grief, self-medicating through anger and sex. Eventually, we are introduced to the cause of this grief and can, through a persistently sharded narrative, start following. And forgiving. Early scenes showing him (name of Tom) being arrogant, coldly suave and self serving invite us to dislike him before we know where he has come from but when we do, piece by piece, his inner maelstrom and outer freeze speak volumes and we can forgive him his trespasses. All that is right there on the cinema screen. So why don't I care about it more than sporadically?

It has good things going for it from the get go: a strong Australian cast put performances which, though fragmented by the structure, come through clearly; that fragmentation at first so uncompromising loosens up with an easy hand at the helm and is soon enough quite enjoyable; the theme of love and loss is constant, intimate and supported by a fundamentally cinematic heart. See, it's all good. But it isn't, really.

The good thing about asynchronous narrative is that it can push the theme, the issues, the more existential elements of a situation boldly out front for our examination while still retaining much of what we like in narrative cinema (performances, motivation etc) but the bad thing about it is how it also seems to encourage the nurture of secondary or even irrelevant elements. Burning Man hits its stride quite early on and, after a few surprises and sleight of hand moments, we are happy to take up its invitation. But soon enough after that the sheer weight of repetition, strains that fizzle and continue to fizzle, the feeling that the film will have no clear ending gets stronger. And then, after what feels like hours later we are given a climactic moment and an emotive coda. As that is happening I realise that I don't care at all about this character that I had begun warming to way back in the first shower of shards. I observe him emote. I do not share his emotion.

All I can think of is that I might have cared if I'd had to wade through about thirty less minutes of screen time. The tech is now too old to be universal but it's also irresistable as a figure: imagine taking a square of photo paper from the enlarger plate and sinking it into the developer, watching the image emerge in the dim light but noticing that every few seconds it erases and emerges again and again and again. That's what the last fortnight of this film feels like. An ongoing attempt at showing how gallows humour works seems forced the first time and then by the third or fourth becomes a strain.

I should like this film. I like grim films. I like a lot of unrelentingly grim films. I like films that challenge classical narrative or even dispense with it while remaining fiction (mid 60s Godard is a good place to start for this). I like films as essays that push their themes forward like stage mothers their unluckily talented children. But this grim, intentionally fractured character autopsy snatched my empathy and then even cold interest and left me at the point where those things started to feel like contempt. It is well made with good makings but god I wish it were better.

No comments:

Post a Comment