Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon May 03, 2021 4:29 pm 
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A wagon hitched to Borges shoots for the stars

The title is a nod to Jorge Luis Borges' famous short story "The Aleph", which is one of his many references to the nature of infinity, endlessness, labyrinths, and the illusion of reality. Iva Radivojevic 's Aleph is a travelogue of experience, a dreamer's journey through the lives, experiences, stories and musings of a series of protagonists spanning, the notes tell us, ten countries, five continents, multiple languages. I lost count after a while; it starts with American English, Spanish, and Arabic. Radivojevic lives in Brooklyn but spent her early life, we are told, in the endless libraries of Yugoslavia and Cyprus.

Borges is a conceptual writer. His stories are not stories but ideas for stories, stories within stories within stories whose brilliance is so great he is a main reason for John Barth in the late sixties writing about "The Literature of Exhaustion" - that is, a literature in which all ideas have been thought of, and therefore exhausted. It's a high-concept, self-reflective, post-modern fiction and Borges was in some sense the last word, and yet he is loved for that. He is one of the great masters. He can wipe out a whole genre with a two-paragraph sketch.

The Aleph in Borges' conception is a dot - in Arabic it is the first letter, and a straight line, which can also be the beginning of any word that starts with a vowel - and within that dot is all things, all scenes all angles. It can also be a line of wood, in it too is all things.

Iva Radivojevic's "Aleph" starts with this high ambition, but Borges is a big name to hitch your wagon to. Having scenes in multiple languages turns out not to work very well, and the film winds up feeling anecdotal and, worst of all, pretentious and moody, or in the case of several interchangeable young women, one Slavic, another Indian, depressed and pouty. This is not a kind of world-weariness that impresses. A young bedouin man who dances and asks big questions in Arabic dialect creates a better impression. He has energy and humor. But after a while it all begins to blur. The "wildly eclectic" and multi-national New Directors/New Films collection doesn't need to pile on further eclecticism within an individual film whose sequences are simply tacked together in the hopes that the result will seem complex and profound. Perhaps her high concept will bear better fruit another time.

Aleph, 90 min., debuts at New Directors/New Films 2012. It was screened at home for this review.

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