Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lav Diaz's "Norte, the End of History" at NWFF: Nov 14 - 20 | Ben Russell & Rivers' "A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness" at NWFF: Nov 15 | The Garden of Earthly Delights: Three films by Ben Russell at Grand Illusion Cinema: Nov 17 | Magic Lantern: Time as a Character in Contemporary Film at Frye Art Museum: Nov 16

Much has been made of last year's epic re-imagining of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" by the vanguard director at the forefront of Filipino cinema. Not least of which it ranking on notable Films of the Year lists, cited as a highlight of Cannes, and since it's distribution this year, as Film of the Week for both Sight & Sound and Film Comment. Unlike some of the director's previous work, his newest diverges from what's come to be called 'Slow Cinema' in that Lav Diaz's "Norte, the End of History" is as much a dynamic personal fiction with the ebb and flow of a narrative drama, set within the duration and structural expanses of Slow Cinema's spacial ambiance. This vantage from the perspective of the interpersonal is the force that moves the viewer through the larger existential and natural landscapes, guided by "Rays of Humanity in a Vile World: ‘Norte, the End of History,’ a Dostoyevskian Fable". Where Dostoevsky's novel comes into play is in the tone, attitude, and sensibility of Diaz’s film; the gravitas, the unrestrained philosophical questioning, the cryptic humor, the sometimes melodramatic tendencies.

Clear lines can be drawn between the characters of Fabian as our academic yet alienated Raskolnikov and Magda the avaricious pawnbroker Mrs. Ivanovna, and while it’s not clear in many of the supporting characters who is which of the novel's equivalents, much of the film’s first half feels like a direct transposition to a Philippine setting. And more than any other work, it can be seen as a culmination of Diaz’s long engagement with the Russian novelist, in this the most fully realized of his "Dostoevsky Variations". Fabian is embittered law student who has dropped out for vague reasons, which hasn’t stopped him from eloquently and endlessly debating with friends and former professors. Like Raskolnikov, Fabian believes in a sentiment-hating, results-oriented, pseudo-Nietzschean philosophy; and like Raskolnikov, he longs to put his philosophy into practice in the most radical way possible. The deed done, the film diverges significantly from the text, Dostoevsky’s relentless manhunt is replaced with an existential and at one point self-destructive quest through massive, unpopulated landscapes and dark city streets of the Filipino island of Luzon.

That same weekend at Northwest Film Forum in the way of Slow-er Cinema of time and space, the ethnographic explorations of Ben Rivers collaborative work with director Ben Russell and their Film of the Year list charting "A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness". The film featuring the performance and music of Robert A.A. Lowe of Lichens and OM, as a man on a quiet quest for Utopia: first in an Estonian commune, then alone in the European woods, and finally in the unlikely setting of a Black Metal concert. An expansive experimental work, in Film Comment's Interview: Ben Rivers and Ben Russell we see the process by which the two directors having crafted a sumptuous visual and sonic experience that is several things at once: the primitive, the transcendental, even a metaphor for cinema itself. The nature of the directors shared fusion of technique and form should come as no surprise to those familiar with Rivers' highly regarded documentary-drama fusion "Two Years at Sea" and where it is the case that in much of his work, "Little Happens, Nothing is Explained" this is a personal, reflective, observational, inward and outward looking cinema of time. Coinciding with Russell's attendance at NWFF for his workshop on Psychedelic Ethnography across town The Grand Illusion will be screening a rare evening of his shorts, "The Garden of Earthly Delights: Three films by Ben Russell".

Along with all of the above, the third weekend in November also marks the final of Robert Horton's monthly Magic Lantern screening and discussion series at The Frye Art Museum. After a decade-long tenure at the museum the Film Comment contributor will be closing out his time as host and moderator of the series with their annual Critics Wrap in December. This weekend's program is the final of the regular screenings, and a exceptional theme has been selected; Time as a Character in Contemporary Film. Through excerpts from the work of directors working either in duration-based cinema (Bela Tarr, Andrei Tarkovsky, Tsai Ming-liang), or narrative which utilizes time as a structural element (Aleksander Sokurov, Jia Zhang-ke, Richard Linklater), Horton will present and discuss these representations of time-focused cinema and the significance of their technical and psychological objectives in the age of the post-MTV quick cut.