La Mama

Cinematica: Love

18 March 2021

The most baffling thing about Cinematica: Love was its title. Ostensibly setting out to “explore the notion of love in all its glorious forms”, the suite of four short films opened with a hallucinatory collage of dismembered statues, swallowed up in pools of inky black, shortly followed by stills of a gynaecological endoscopy. The event was originally scheduled for Valentine’s day, before being delayed by COVID. It would have made quite a date.

That gynaecological endoscopy film, Irene Proebsting and Barry Brown’s Instruments for Chorus and Orchestra (1999), is an absolute sensory bombardment. Distorted images of lipstick, organs, carpet, televisions, shoes, are physically collaged together and crammed into the grainy Super 8 frame; women’s bodies are collaged and warped, with points of male-gaze fixation—lips, eyes, breasts—comically enlarged, transfigured with cut-outs of phones and TVs. It often feels in conversation with Margaret Dodd’s This woman is not a car (1982), another great Australian feminist satire skewering techno-fetishisation. 

Proebsting’s dispassionate examination of her collaged subjects forces us to interrogate the violence of the camera when used as a tool for patriarchal exploitation. Sometimes, Proebsting is presenting a film of a photograph through a magnifying glass, thereby passing it through four separate lenses—including the viewer’s eye—each one ostensibly a passive observational tool, but which combine to distort and dehumanise. Occasionally, she finds beauty, too, when the images are given room to breathe—recording galaxies in light refracted through a gemstone, or heavenly clouds in the crevices of a woollen carpet—contrasting the extractive nature of the male gaze with a genuine affection for the everyday. 

This concern with the power of looking—as photographer, filmmaker, human—is shared by the rest of the night’s films. The third film, Audrey Lam’s Magic Miles (2014), is a minimalist, fifteen-minute road movie, about two twenty-something women taking a lazy a drive out of town. Mostly plotless, the film becomes a study of sidelong glances, interspersed with shots of grass waving in the breeze—but Lam’s vaguely-sketched characters provide little emotional interest, and film never becomes more than a pleasant-enough pastiche of better films by the likes of Kelly Reichardt or Amy Seimetz. There’s one profound moment, though, involving a song spliced together from the moments a Kanye song when he isn’t rapping—chronicling what surrounds the language, without need for language itself. It feels like the film’s own thesis, funnily and subtly explained.

The fourth, headlining film—the Australian premiere of Rouzbeh Rashidi’s Phantom Islands—was easily the longest, at 86 minutes, and most high profile; Rashidi’s films have screened internationally. Much has already been said about it—its hallucinogenic Irish vistas, fourth-wall breaking montages, and enigmatic performances—and I would encourage anyone to seek the film, and writing about it, out. But I want to direct whatever remaining space I have to the second film of the night, about which I can find nothing written, but which is, to my mind, the most moving.

Baris Ulusoy’s Katarsis (2020) begins with Ulusoy himself explaining his filmmaking motivations. It’s his one misstep; the rest of the film is near-perfectly constructed, and speaks eloquently and economically for itself. 

It presents a series of domestic scenes, spliced together with the reflections of Ulusoy’s mother as she recounts her childhood trauma to her son behind camera. Ulusoy’s collaging of these scenes collapses time like memory, allowing, as memory allows, a deeper narrative to emerge: vacuuming, cooking, arguing, laughing, offering tissues to wipe away tears—seemingly isolated instances of domesticity are revealed as points on a continuum of love and generational trauma. By the end of its seven-minute runtime, Katarsis has proven the power of DIY film memoir to tell vital stories that would otherwise go untold. It has also, more than any other film in Cinematica: Love, provided an authentic account of that titular Love—in life and in filmmaking—not as theme, but as continuous, painful, transformative, liberatory practice.

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