Cinema Beyond Morse Codes

23rd Nordic Panorama, Five Cities Film Festival, Oulu, Finland, 21 – 26 September 2012

  • Enclosed Moments, dir. Jens Klevje, Fabian Svensson

    One might remember Stereo (1969) by David Cronenberg, one of his earlier experiments, a clinical and hypnotic work shot in black and white in a large and nearly empty building, some sort of an achievement of modern architecture. The shots were almost like mathematical calculations, exact, flawless. The camera didn’t move. There was no music. And there was the voice over, one of the most monotonous male voices ever heard in modern cinema, explaining things while we were watching these few little dots called human beings moving around inside the colourless building. (It might be interesting to watch it next to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), being a statement on the meaningless wandering of modern man, surrounded by consumerism and the death of ideals.)

    There was another film similar to Cronenberg’s a couple of years ago, Container (2006) by Lukas Moodysson, by far his best and most intriguing work. No music, nearly no recognizable sound design. Only black-and-white images and a beautiful voice over, this time belonging to a young American woman. It was not about wide-open spaces but tight interiors filled with anxiety. Cronenberg and Moodysson showed how monotony and the majestic can go hand in hand, and create a contradiction that tackles some of the key issues of filmmaking. To make a long story short, it’s about going to the basics, turning your film into a kind of a dancing skeleton of the cinematic form. In our times, this is way more interesting and welcome than ever.

    Watching the new Nordic documentaries this year in the Nordisk Panorama, it was quite clear which of them were part of the tradition known as cinema, and which were merely wasting one’s time. Documentary films can be the most frustrating in today’s festival scene. However easy it is to get your hands on a Canon 7D (or three of them), it doesn’t hide the harsh truth that the area you’re working in is still filmmaking. After all, it really doesn’t matter if one makes a fiction film or not. Certain principles should apply. Otherwise we can just move all the film festivals to YouTube.
    The Missing Darkness, dir. Hanne Nielsen, Birgit Johnsen
    Among the short form documentaries, the Swedish film Enclosed Moments was so clearly on its own level, that the Fedeora jury had a field day choosing it as the winner. Going back to Cronenberg and Moodysson, of whose films it was clearly reminiscent, it’s way better, deeper, and more moving. The film is at the same time a stunning and laconic meditation on the existence of man surrounded by the mysteries of the cosmos, without the Terrence Malick type of idiocy.

    The filmmakers Jens Klevje and Fabian Svensson show us the magnitude of nature without romanticizing it. There are epic mountain views, stunning underwater photography, mesmerizing speeded up shots of birds, insects, deer. But somehow this is far away from a nature documentary. It is as if the filmmakers don’t want to show us nature, but how nature doesn’t care what we think about it, how we see it, how we analyze it and destroy it. And on top of that, there is the wonderful voiceover going from scientific facts to philosophical arguments and poetry, in the end vanishing into its own nothingness.

    Klevje and Svensson’s film might be called a philosophical essay, but in the most humble and meaningful sense. They start by showing us the left-overs of a coal mine, showing us a part of a vanishing rural culture. They found cinematic beauty in this most wretched post-industrial scenery (they also start with black-and-white images, which slowly start to get more colour, the more the human beings are left on the background). After all, what is not vanishing if not all the human ideas, through space and time? We know all the names of every insect. But perhaps cinema would be at its clearest, if the images would slowly vanish completely… In approaching these fundamental ideas, Enclosed Moments is at the same time calm and harmonizing – an utterly stimulating piece of work.

    When it comes to crossing science and poetry in an experimental form, there was also another work at the festival, which I found quite interesting: the Danish film The Missing Darkness by Hanne Nielsen and Birgit Johnsen. It’s shot in the darkest corner of Denmark, mostly during night time. What we want to notice is the darkness, a force of life that in our era has become more and more endangered. The film shows us a scientist researching light, and the effects of pollution on human and animal life. We follow the stars, the horizon on the dark sea, clouds, and the cold earth; listen to stories about the effects of artificial light on humans, and from time to time are interrupted by huge flickering light bulbs, blinding us in the audience while sending Morse codes… It’s refreshing to see an experiment that holds tightly to its methods, trying to find ways for cinema to still have an importance, next to science and human self-destruction.

    Eero Tammi, Finland