LIKE CULTURAL CONVERSATION breaks down into spasms of splenetic indignation, the fear of being misunderstood reaches epidemic levels. In such an atmosphere, it is increasingly rare to come across works of art that are packaged without an instruction manual intended to dispel any potential confusion. And if, like me, you are bored to the point of becoming catalepsy by the resulting parade of self-defining works of art that stretch endlessly towards the horizon, perhaps you will make the perfect viewer to the crackle of Argentine director Eduardo Williams. The human wave, a dense rumble of a movie that only becomes tangled more dramatically when you try to untangle it.
Williams, who turns 30 this year, had already made a name for himself on the festival circuit with a series of distinctive, globe-trotting shorts when this, his first feature, won the main prize in the Filmmakers of the present at Locarno. International Film Festival. (The jury included Dario Argento, who knows a thing or two about formal bravery.) The human wave is a non-conformist work, the most obvious of its distinctive features being its triptych form, which individualizes each section by its location and visual texture. The first part, located in a flooded district of Buenos Aires, is shot at 16mm. The second, in Maputo, Mozambique, achieves a unique palette with images originally captured with a Blackmagic pocket camera that was filmed on a computer screen on Super 16. In the final section, Williams takes a RED Scarlet digital camera in the province of the Philippines. by Bohol.
None of these abrupt changes in location are announced by signage, and Williams takes no pains to keep a slow onlooker on top of what’s going on. Each section brings out new “protagonists” – I use creepy quotes because it took me a second reading to get a feel for the narrative elements, largely because I was blown away by the utter daring. of the thing the first time. Even Williams’ cameraman doesn’t always seem to have a clear idea of who he’s supposed to follow, as topics are picked up and dropped on a whim. A little bit of dialogue that happens at the end of the movie – “Did you try to follow a beautiful girl when you got lost?” – seems close to the logic of the work of the camera, which seems reactive, alive, unmoored, chimerical, erratic, obedient to whim. The characteristic movement of the film is a flickering portable video footage dragging behind or beside one or more characters – not the familiar intimate shoulder grip of the Dardenne brothers or a hundred films from the Hubert Bals Fund, but one that holds the camera down. carefully to an uncomfortable level. distance, where the facial features, if they are visible at all, are just on the cusp of readability, a distance that arouses some tension in the viewer, makes you feel as if you squint your eyes and you bend over a bit, you could You understand. This is frequently combined with dark, grainy, low-light, or even obscured settings, reducing subjects to disembodied voices, such as in a scene where Argentinian children are crammed into the hollow of a tree trunk.
Williams and her DP double-s, Joaquin Neira and Julien Guillery, found their style and tone in part by pulling from the lexicon of amateur videography, from cellphone video to pornographic webcam – starting in her 2011 short film. Could see a Puma, Williams can be found experimenting with similar floating cinematic peregrinations. It is an aesthetic adapted to the subjects of the film: itinerant groups of twenty-five years, mainly male, for the most part seen at leisure, on their way to nowhere in particular at a raging and walking pace, talking about nothing at all. The dialogue is made of tossed and often overdubbed observations, which sometimes veers into the territory of the poetico-philosophical. “Did you know that the silence of the future will be like a crowded food court?” asks a boy. “I dreamed that the sky was covered with advertisements,” said another. The Argentine section revolves around Exe, one of the film’s most clearly demarcated characters, living in his cramped family home, laid off from a stock boy job in a supermarket and keeping a sideline in exhibitionism from webcam with friends – there is an unstimulated sexual act, surprising precisely by the carelessness, by the sheer banality of the thing. In Mozambique we pick up with another group of boys seen doing the same burlesque with less commitment, a quick way to make money between odd jobs – rambling office work, migrant labor, lagging behind the counter has a sort of arcade. Finally, we surface on the other side of the world, in Bohol, where a cache of characters whose previous acquaintance is difficult to gauge wander through the jungle undergrowth, gathering around a swimming hole, where they splash around discussing, among other things, the possible location of an internet café.
Until a postscript stabilized on a tripod at an antiseptic Filipino factory that makes tablets, the film’s consistent aesthetic is ramshackle, slippery, and intentionally offbeat, though Williams is very capable of very precise creation. movie shot effects, reserved for transitions between sections. Passing from Argentina to Mozambique, we seem to travel seamlessly through a computer screen to arrive on the other side, while the leap from Mozambique to the Philippines follows a stream of urine falling on an anthill to dive in the underground tunnels, mingling closely. with the shiny black bodies of swarming insects. (There are nuances here of diving under David Lynch’s manicured lawn Blue velvet .)
Williams strives to go through the cabling of complex networks in the case of the Internet and the anthill. The occasional aerial disguises The human wavethe thematic coherence of the title, starting with the title’s invocation of organic-technological hybridity, as echoing in the analog-digital progression of its change of format, or in a moment when a child is heard measuring the human genome in gigabytes. While very few filmmakers have made serious attempts to deal with the enormous cognitive earthquake represented by the colonization of everyday life by the Internet, Williams is daring and in fact up for the challenge. From an interview last year:
“My brain and my practice have been transformed by technology. For example, by the video games I played when I was young. In video games, you have these different levels at which you advance, moving through several spaces. And then the chats – at many times in my life, it seemed to me that the online chat was my only means of communication. It’s a different way of speaking, of connecting. I didn’t think about it at first, but that’s why I structure my films the way I do. It’s about how I see and relate to the world. “
Since the subjects of his film have only one unifying purpose, it is to get online: to buy working cell phones from friends or to travel around in search of a wifi signal. Binaries are only invoked to be fully open. Williams shows us ways of life that are both technologically advanced and primitive, borderless and highly parochial, under the sway of both science and superstition. In a discursive conversation about ‘black magic’, two young Mozambicans wonder about ‘people controlling themselves from afar’ – which, of course, is exactly what is happening on the Chaturbate site they log on to. And while a sense of looming environmental cataclysm hangs over the film’s first footage of streets flooded by unspoken disaster, the film is also steeped in moments of bucolic natural beauty, unspoiled beaches and forests, and open fields in what seems to be a perpetual. dusk. The mood of The human wave it is above all rest, but rest haunted by the prospect of work, the threat of which is felt throughout the film – avoiding it, submitting to it, dreading waking up, getting fired, leaving work. (And yes, they’re worker ants.) It makes for an exhilarating and daringly paradoxical experience – a headlong dive into the rich, gnarled, sticky undergrowth amid a proliferation of tidy, well-lit trails.
Eduardo williams The human wave opens Friday March 3 at Metrograph At New York.