Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2017 5:12 am 
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A grainy tripartite chronicle of global unemployment and disconnection

In a grubby part of Buenos Aires, twenty-something Exe (Sergio Morosini) loses his dull supermarket warehouse job and has little desire to seek another. Leaving his darkened apartment in the off-putting opening scene, he wades through his neighborhood, flooded by a big storm, and later visits friends, wandering around followed by the camera. Eventually Exe steps down into a room where other young men "nonchalantly strip and perform sex acts upon each other for webcam money" (Variety review by Jessica Kiang). On the Internet later he accidentally comes upon Alf, a young Mozambican (Shine Mar), involved in a similar webcam scene and Hey presto!! we seamlessly enter Alf's world and begin following him around. The Human Surge, an adventurous and off-putting young man's film, has three conjoined parts that are as similar as they are different.

Alf, serial protagonist number two, is another lean young man of small means with a meaningless job. In his turn, Alf meets up with another young man, Archie, who escapes to the jungle and camps for the night. Taking a leak next morning, Archie pees on an anthill, and the camera takes us deep into it. Suddenly we are in the Philippines in a similar anthill and Canh, a Filipino boy, irritably brushes the ants off his hand, and goes on a walk to his strange and beautiful city. We have slipped into the world of Canh and everybody is speaking a Filipino language. Canh too has a depressing job. In Argentina, Mozambique, and the Philippines, we have followed three young men who have jobs that depress them; but there are hints of other elements and points of view - of a world perhaps as much open to the magical as much as it is frustrating in the frequent breakdowns of the worldwide electronic communication of wi-fi, smart phones, tablets, and the Internet, which in poor neighborhoods don't always work, and in any neighborhood, may alienate as much as join.

This Locarno multiple prizewinner debut film included in prestigious festivals (Toronto, Berlin, NYFF), which made me think of Carlos Reygadas, is a determined if zero-budget visual exploration of unemployed youth, movement, following three slim youths around in those three countries successively, often literally running behind them. Much fuss has been made about these ingenious ways Williams finds of transitioning from the first section to the second and from the second to the third. In the first, someone looks at a computer where a vernacular online sex show like the one Exe was briefly part of is going on, and then we enter into it, and it's the world of Alf, in Mozambique. Then Alf camps out and when he wake up he pisses on an anthill. We enter into the anthill (the Variety critic, Jessica Kiang, says this is ironically the warmest moment in what she finds a very "distant" and unengaging film) and that transitions to the Philippines. But as Kiang also notes "the transitions absolutely work" (and show how thought-through, if distant and off-putting Williams' film is) as illustrations of the simultaneity and interchangeability of this generation of the world's impoverished young men which is Williams' laborious theme.

The different filmic looks of the three parts - each is shot or processed in a different way - have also been admired, although, to a cold eye, they can all look pretty much too similarly cheap and grainy for the distinctions to matter. Contrast Tangerine, shot on an iPhone with anamorphic attachments, where such minimal methods led to bright, brilliant, sharp, and visually pleasing images. Conversation in Williams' film is mysterious and puzzling. Themes returned to include trouble getting a working cell phone or connecting to the Internet, jobs, online sex for pay. Extended scenes are those of bathing hole in the Philippines and a ramble in a dark village looking for an open Internet café at the end followed by the coda of repetitious work in an electronic tablet factory. Like Reygadas' Post Tenebras Lux this film has one brief ravishing landscape. Some, obviously, like the writers for Film Comment or Eric Kohn in Indiewire, who calls Williams' work "adventurous formalism," are blown away by this film, as the judges at Locarno were. But Kiang in Variety particularly stresses how distant this film is: you never enter into the lives or feel much warmth, and there is no narrative thread. For all his effort, Edoardo Williams seems a bit too up in his own head. His film is an hour and forty minutes and the first hour felt like one of the longest in my life. But for cinephiles this is a hint of something new and thought-provoking to come.

El auge del humano/The Human Surge, 97 mins., debuted at Locarno winning Best First Feature Special Mention and the Golden Leopard for Filmmakers of the Present. Included in ten other festivals as mentioned, and part of the large "Projections" sidebar series of the 2016 New York Film Festival, its US premiere, Oct. 9, 2016. Watched at a press screening at Metrograph Theater in Chinatown 23 Feb. 2017; it opens there 3 Mar. with wider US theatrical release to follow.

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