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BFI London Film Festival 2022, Dispatch #4: De Humani Corporis Fabrica, Linoleum, Klondike

De Humani Corporis Fabrica, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel
De Humani Corporis Fabrica

The films of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel are less portraits of their ostensible subjects than they are portraits of their filmmakers. Despite the literal depth of their explorations, in this case into the human body and its theatre of discovery and recovery, the hospital, such is the specificity of their perspective that the viewer is always conscious of the fact that this is not our perspective, nor an objective, universal one. De Humani Corporis Fabrica is rarely, if ever, a perspective in abstract - here, more than ever, Castaing-Taylor/Paravel are committed to clarity, illuminating complexity, not chaos - but it is most singular, and distinctly odd, and almost perverse. Certainly, their commitment is to a knotty, tacky, grisly portrait of the human body (and mind), and thus to a portrait of themselves as provocateurs - if the mild-mannered, middle-class crowd of cineastes with whom I had the pleasure of seeing said portrait is anything to go by, I'd say their provocations have handily served their purpose.

Appropriately, there's much to chew on here. Castaing-Taylor and Paravel seem drawn primarily to the operating theatre, but maybe not so much for its corporeal capacities. What we see, what we feel, what we know - it's all in the mind anyway, and in these salles de sang what flows forth most is the sheer dementedness of the surgeon's troubled mind. As scalpels slice and sutures are sewn, De Humani Corporis Fabrica takes a cross-section in kind, a glimpse into the inner workings of tortured, brilliant, impossibly arrogant artists' minds at their tormented peak, frequently then cutting to a glimpse of minds ravaged by disease and old age. It's aggressive in its provocations, then, but isn't that the whole point of provocation? There's also a compelling respect of procedure, an appreciation of toil that gives all these wild and wonderful sights and sounds real body (pun entirely intended). Morgue workers diligently tend to every button on a corpse's pants, hoisted over a soiled diaper and stiffened limbs. These are just the things we do, us humans, whether they're worth it or not. De Humani Mentis Fabrica?

Jim Gaffigan, Linoleum, Colin West
Jim Gaffigan in Linoleum

I wasn't expecting to be especially moved by Colin West's Linoleum, though I've deliberately avoided researching as many LFF titles as possible, and this has flown almost entirely under my radar to date anyway. Whatever I expected the movie to become, what it starts and mostly continues as is entirely satisfactory, a handsome, sensitive, slightly wry American indie dramedy in broad strokes, or so it seems. Because there's subtlety beneath those strokes, and the movie is peppered with suggestions that West has more on his mind than just a straightfoward portrait of a Midwesterner's midlife crisis in full, primary colour. Not that he has a lot more in mind, mind you, but when Linoleum finally resolves its little contradictions and cliffhangers, coalesces its disparate parts into a single whole, it does so with the same sensitivity with which it's developed each individually, and that's genuinely quite a profound, touching thing to experience.

Much of what makes Linoleum work so well is in how West holds evidently high esteem for every element he adds to it. Hokey educational TV shows about science, teenage misfits and their difficult home lives, marital strife in middle-age - this is material not only done before, but parodied before, and West presents it all in a style that might indicate further parody, but with a tone that asserts sincerity. He seems to really care about each and everything, and everyone, in his quirky little story; here I find Seehorn's character to be particularly pertinent - she makes an important decision that could easily have come across submissive, as though she were being celebrated for succumbing to the needs of another. But she doesn't succumb, she un-succumbs, and it's quite delightful to see. In the end, West maybe overexplains, belabours points that have already settled in and cast their spell, but they're fine points to make any which way. A beautiful movie that sees the vastness of infinity in infinitessimally small detail.

Sergey Shadrin, Klondike, Maryna er Gorbach
Sergey Shadrin in Klondike

No doubt Maryna er Gorbach is an excellent director, and Klondike is unrelenting in showcasing her skills as such. It's a terrific example of how to film physical space, how to use the innate qualities of light, structure, and personal perception of one's environment both to communicate emotion and to instill it into a film. This is a potent, uncomplicated depiction of a wretched situation, and extremely timely; and it's possibly the most spatially astute film since Tom Tykwer's The International in 2009. But it's also hammy, histrionic, and grindingly obvious in its every expression. Profundity feels baked into every gesture, not organically arising from them, so watching Klondike feels like being beat about the head with the hammer of insistence that THIS IS MEANINGFUL, THIS IS MEANINGFUL, THIS IS MEANINGFUL!!!! And yes, there's meaning to what er Gorbach depicts here, but what meaning there is to her comically brutish Artistry swiftly starts to negate any of that. One comes away from her movie feeling compassion and concern for the citizens of Eastern Ukraine, for sure, but in spite of the movie, not because of it.

Fundamentally, er Gorbach doesn't seem to possess the technique by which to express adequately the everyday horror of traumatic events like the Russian invasion and occupation, and so resorts to pummelling melodrama, affording no character, good nor bad, the space to develop naturally. Klondike is populated by psychological proxies, figures of overt representation bearing little-to-no resemblance to real people beyond their physical properties. Their suffering thus feels staged - of course it's justified within the terms of er Gorbach's conceit, but those terms are designed for maximum applicability across the population of an entire, reasonably well-populated country, and distilling that into individuals for philosophical purposes is crude and, alas, counter-productive. There's nothing instrinsically wrong with making a point for the sake of the point itself, but regardless of what side of the political debate you're on, there are few things more insufferable than point-makers high on their own supply.


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