Film Reviews

Sidewalk – Exterior : Night (contemplative video)

Unheimlich (2015/Arthur CARIA/Brazil) 3’31”
One take, one point of view, one subject, one continuous temporality.
It is difficult at first to figure out what is going on in this seemingly stolen shot from an overlooking window. A God’s point of view. The  grainy light is gloomy and crepuscular. It is challenging to make out shapes from shadows, foreground from background, representations from reflections, impressions from illusions…
The curious high slant at an almost perfect 45° angle composes an eerily deceptive axonometric projection, which can revert inside-out the perspective depending on the viewer’s inclination.
Are we looking at a valley or a mountain fold? Is it a precipice or a wall? The shadows disappear on the edge, but is it because the shadows are projected down below at the bottom of the wall or is it a wall standing on the edge hiding the end of the shadows? Cars pass by furtively, with their headlights sweeping the scene from below. However this additional light doesn’t help to reconstruct the volumes. And a puddle rests there between the road and the sidewalk like a fortunate mirror, which is completely black unless an automobile drives by reflecting its lights.
The flat night lighting doesn’t help much… It takes time to accustom onelsef to the perspective and the geography of such a simple place. It is almost a theatre stage, with two animals.
But what are they? This is not evident at first sight to determine what we are dealing with. They must be dogs! One of those giant dogo Argentino. It is only on second viewing that I could be certain of them being horses, very calm horses, abandonned there for the night.
Two horses on the sidewalk in the night. Why ? Why not ? Maybe these are the questions of this piece.

Are they Turin horses, escaped from a Béla Tarr and Agnès Hranitzky film or a Nietsche biopic. The two of them are standing in place like two statues. Parked there by their elusive owners like a car on a parking lot. Two stallions without their cowboys, outside the saloon. No saddle. No halter. No lead. Yet they await patiently. These lonely horses are incredible. The symbol of freedom they stand for is frustrated by this picture. The surrounding is not the wilderness, nontheless they are arrested (if not attached) in one place, between a road and a wall, as if their savage nature was robbed from them.

The title refers to a 1919 (a century ago!) Freudian concept Das Unheimlich or The Uncanny which describes an experience that is “strangely familiar”. Indeed, everything in this picture seems familiar, but nothing falls in place just right. Something is strange about it, and keeps us from looking away. Is it because we imagine them on the verge of falling off a vertical drop to their instant death? Or is it because they seem abandonned by all humanity, left on their own in an indifferent world, for who knows how long more? Is it the perplexed human or the outraged animal in us watching this short scene?
Without a plot, without protagonist, this contemplative video clip, frozen in stasis, is packed with mystery, ambiguous environment, mude offscreen, slow mood and stranded alienation. The components of Contemporary Contemplative Cinema.
What a fluke to capture this instant! What an eye to frame this out of context! What a patience to film it entirely!
Part of a series of “One-Shot-Video-Poems” filmed in 2015 by Arthur Caria. See his website Cinemática Expositiva for more clipoems like this one. Or watch Building here.
Rooftop under construction (contemplative video)
Building (2014/Arthur Caria/Brazil)1’58”

This shot is not only Black & White, but devoid of greyscale as well. Strictly pure black and pure white. For the most part. We notice a shadow on the bottom right corner which divulges a possible video effect used to saturate the contrast to the max. With an odd canted angle this view could be a photograph of the Soviet Constructivism. The aesthetic is sublime. But it is very frontal. This scene is a black cardboard cutout (pure shadow) against a white background (pure light) as only a camera could see it. These minuscule silhouettes remind me of the fine paper cutting of one Lotte Reiniger (The Adventures of Prince Ahmed/1926). But these stickmen aren’t animation, this is real life.

From a high vantage point we observe the last level of a building under construction, and a team of busy workers : 8 on top and a couple more on the lower levels (they are caged in a prison of wires). The handheld camera emphasizes the voyeur point of view of a James Stewart in Rear Window (1954).The telelens and the monochromy flatten the perspective and hang the characters as if on a clothline. Their walking around looks even more perious than it probably is. It’s like if all of them walked the edge of a wall top, and were about to fall to their death. Yet they hang around with the most natural decontraction. Look at this one kneeling over. See that one crawling on all four. This is scary!

From time to time appears the steel bars left naked awaiting for the next concrete pillars to be poured in for a higher level. These are like weapons erected to kill. And the workers, like magicians, pass through without harm, seamlessly. If you look carefully, you could see a white reflection coming from above, on their hats, shoulders and backs. Especially when they move one over the other, the white delimitation can still define the silhouettes mixed together.

Then the zoom comes in and reaches closer. Two guys hold a hammer. Another two roll up a rope or a wire. Others stand there idling. But who is the boss? It is difficult to tell. One seems to talk while others around him listen. He’s got their attention. But look at the one crawling, he’s now bending over the edge and slaming a hammer downstairs. This one will surely fall over.
We contemplate their whereabouts without sound, without words, and figure out bit by bit what is going on, who they are, what they want… This is the power of minimalist narration.

Part of a series of “One-Shot-Video-Poems” filmed in 2015 by Arthur Caria. See his website Cinemática Expositiva for more clipoems like this one. Or Unheimlich here.

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