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BFI LFF 2022, Dispatch #16: The Blue Rose of Forgetfulness, More Than Ever, Geographies of Solitude

The Blue Rose of Forgetfulness, Lewis Klahr
The Blue Rose of Forgetfulness

I try to hold myself to the belief that no movie is too long nor too short, but rather that each and every movie simply is the length that it is, and should be appraised for what it achieves within that duration. Alas, Lewis Klahr's The Blue Rose of Forgetfulness puts that belief to a most strenuous test - it's both a single piece of work in itself and a collection of recent shorts, thus demanding a dual temporal analysis of both the shorts as individual entities and of the movie as its own individual entity. Klahr's filmmaking technique further complicates this process, with its rapidly edited sequences of collaged images and sounds, each in perpetual dislocation, rarely with much textual clarity to guide the viewer in their interpolation of the events depicted. Indeed, each short is almost its own single sequence, one image overlapping another until they form a kind of vivid haze, seductively arch but also frustratingly obtuse. They seem to dissipate as they're consumed, new suggestions of ongoing stories simply replacing old ones every few seconds, such that those stories fold in on themselves and become more like spiky, ephemeral little mood pieces.

That seems like a waste of Klahr's talent - the work he puts into each project is undeniably enormous, and the thought that's gone into the work is most laudable. But there should, surely, be something more memorable about what that work achieves. Rather, The Blue Rose of Forgetfulness is ever elusive, and at feature length, this quality makes for a progessively less interesting movie. And if you want to get much more out of any Klahr movie than just a vague sense of artistic admiration for his accomplishments, that is if you want to detect and appreciate actual meaning and substance within those accomplishments, interest is of utmost vitality, yet it's inevitably on the wane when stretched out to an hour. And for all that I liked what I could discern herein - the back-to-front soundtrack featuring one of my favourite Grieg pieces, and snippets alluding to themes of violence, infidelity, and most of all travel - I liked these details in abstraction. Klahr strips the materials he uses to make his films of context and recontextualizes them, sometimes wholesale. But the most I could get out of this project was in decontextualizing those recontextualized materials, in separating them from their collective haze. Perhaps these shorts might be better served by separating each from each other. So yes, my belief has been shattered: The Blue Rose of Forgetfulness, as a feature-length movie, is too long.

Gaspard Ulliel, Vicky Krieps, More Than Ever, Emily Atef
Gaspard Ulliel and Vicky Krieps in More Than Ever

A fine, sensitively observed drama about a woman seeking the clarity of mind to approach the end of her life in the best way she can find. Emily Atef's astute, compassionate movie doesn't ever take the easy route through its protagonist's search, letting difficult emotions arise as they naturally might, allowing its characters to be the complex, sometimes contradictory people they surely would in such trying circumstances. But Atef doesn't develop much dramatic substance nor momentum out of this, and her movie is ultimately just another smart, well-acted, slightly anaemic Western European drama about skinny white people. Despite its locations, it's not quite cold in its demeanour nor in its attitudes, but it's plain and slender, lacking in dramatic meat. Atef understands both restraint and sympathy, thereby ensuring that not a moment goes by that's not infused with sensitivity and some degree of verisimilitude, and that prevents More Than Ever from becoming any less than a good movie at any stage. But, in retrospect, it's really only ever good, never great, and a subject this profound, appreciated in such detail, realized by actors this talented, deserves rather more than just good.

Instead of operating as a movie about death, or approaching one's death, More Than Ever operates primarily as a movie about perceptions and/or opinions about death. The principal cast is, essentially, just three characters, and lead Vicky Krieps is in almost every scene, yet her connections to others, or her lack of connection, are of utmost significance throughout. She seeks a fulfilling death on her own terms, in her own way, and must confront the attitudes and behaviours of those surrounding her to do so. They, too, must reconcile their needs and their natural responses with those of one another, specifically with matters more immediately affecting one another. Atef and co-writer Lars Hubrich have keenly kept their movie from becoming a ponderous, single-minded reflection on one person's state of mind, and Krieps is superb at making that mind's fluctuating state entirely comprehensible to the audience. I just wish it all added up to more, to something more compelling, more affecting, more artistically ambitious. That said, by its end, More Than Ever has developed enough emotive heft to finally educe a sincere emotional reaction out of me, and Atef's poignant dedication in the credits really seals the deal.

Geographies of Solitude, Jacquelyn Mills
Geographies of Solitude

There's an experimental movie busting to break out of Jacquelyn Mills' biodoc Geographies of Solitude, about long-time Sable Island resident Zoe Lucas. Mills favours a fluid, imprecise style of filmmaking, untethered to expectations or requirements about what a movie like this ought to be, even as some of her experiments directly recall the great underground innovators of cinema in the mid/late 20th Century. But she also clearly feels a fondness for her subject that she can't ease up on, allowing the shape of a conventional biography to emerge out of those experiments. It's still fluid, still shunning the typical strictures of biodoc filmmaking, but the presence of those more unusual elements to Mills' film is both its blessing and its curse. Much as one can revel in their sensorial splendour, one must then yearn for their return as Mills wanders off to paint her portrait of Lucas in clearer, more specific detail. At least she retains her solid filmmaking skills in the process - this might be the first hybrid work from a documentarian ever, in that it combines both the idiosyncratic, uncommercial work they want to do with the conventional, portrait-of-an-artist work they have to do in between, though I feel Mills wants too much to do both, and that's where her problems arise.

Setting aside the Lucas-oriented segments, there's an abundance of fabulous work in this movie. Mills truly grounds her film in Sable Island's geography - literally, she buries and develops film in its soil and other natural materials - and observes its spaces not just visually but sonically - the old hut creaking in the wind? Exquisite! She captures its misty expanses by day and its starlit solitude by night very beautifully indeed, and displays a wonderful eye and ear for beauty itself. In her dialogues with Lucas, it's clear that this is no fly-on-the-wall doc, but an actively engaged work where its own recording is textual - it's sort of its own making-of, and this is manifest in some very satisfying techniques. That this approach affords Mills full licence to create for the sake of creating is a great gift; if only she knew it better. The bits that work best about Geographies of Solitude are too often sidelined in favour of the bits that, honestly, dozens of documentarians could have put together. But it does its twin subjects - island and islander alike - justice in their own ways, and holds so much artistic brilliance within its winsome, unwieldy form that it's ultimately a success in its own right.


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