Currents: Code Unknown

The Daily — Oct 7, 2020
Graham Foy’s August 22, This Year (2020)

Way, way back in mid-September, just as this year’s New York Film Festival was opening, Artforum posted Tony Pipolo’s preview of the inaugural edition of Currents, the program that replaces Projections, which in turn, took the place of Views from the Avant-Garde. “Currents offers more than a dozen feature-length movies and forty-six shorter works in what may be the strongest blend in years,” wrote Pipolo. “As its title promises, a fair number of the entries are of up-to-the-minute societal relevance.” A few of those features and a good handful of the shorts will screen before this year’s NYFF wraps on Sunday.

One of the shorts programs, Code Unknown, is streaming right now through Saturday. It opens with Humongous!, originally slated to premiere in May as part of the Critics’ Week program in Cannes. In eleven minutes, director Aya Kawazoe, who has studied under Shinya Tsukamoto and Kiyoshi Kurosawa, envelops a young woman in memories of childhood. “Aya clearly values texture over concrete meaning, and this lends Humongous! an admirable subtlety and richness,” writes Michael Sicinski in the Notebook. “The title, it seems, is oddly ironic. This is a paean to small, half-remembered things.”

Another Critics’ Week 2020 selection is Graham Foy’s August 22, This Year, a blend of observed and constructed vignettes. In the world of the film, the title marks the end of time, and all of humanity has come to learn to accept mortality and live fully in the moment. Another big-picture short is Jacqueline Lentzou’s The End of Suffering (a proposal). A woman suffering a panic attack finds herself caught up in conversation with the universe, and the otherworldly voices suggest that she might be happier on Mars, a planet of love, not war. “Lentzou pitches this silent ‘dialogue’ against images of an immense cosmos—a contrast both dreamlike and seductive,” writes Pipolo.

Phạm Ngọc Lân’s The Unseen River is one of five titles that make up Mekong 2030, an anthology project overseen by the Luang Prabang Film Festival. A woman and a fisherman look back thirty years to their brief love affair while a young couple journeys to a temple in search of a cure for insomnia. “Though the characters express an abundance of uncertainty, Phạm Ngọc Lân’s filmmaking is confidently assured,” writes Herb Shellenberger in his program notes for the Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival. “Gentle, subtly kinetic camera movements seem to guide the viewer along as if by hand, with delicate zooms into the faces of each character conveying their inner emotions better than any dialogue ever could.”

Over the course of four films—Never Eat Alone (2016), Veslemøy’s Song (2018), MS Slavic 7 (2019), and now, Point and Line to Plane—the central character, Audrey Benac, has evolved into something of an amalgam of director Sofia Bohdanowicz and the actor who portrays her, Deragh Campbell. The title of the new film is taken from the 1926 book by artist and theorist Wassily Kandinsky, and early on, there is a closeup of a brief passage Audrey is reading that sets the agenda: “Every phenomenon can be experienced in two ways. These two ways are not arbitrary, but are bound up with the phenomenon—developing out of its nature and characteristics: Externally—or—internally.”

Audrey’s voice-over narration, a near-constant throughout the film’s eighteen minutes, is ostensibly addressed to the viewer but with an intimacy that suggests an ongoing internal monologue, a deeply personal coming to terms with the recent loss of two close friends rendered as a sequence of objective observations of the external world Audrey moves through. The phenomena Audrey experiences extend beyond her losses to a network of seemingly coincidental connections between the lives of her friends and the art they made and loved—including Kandinsky’s, of course, but also the paintings of his contemporary, Hilma af Klint, whose abstract designs predated Kandinsky’s compositions. “At this point, Bohdanowicz has a recognizable style and sensibility, and as ever with this filmmaker, Point and Line to Plane is heady and heartfelt, as well as (for the first time) a little bit mystical,” writes Adam Nayman for Cinema Scope.

Hilma af Klint’s work speaks to Kristen Stewart’s character in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper (2016) as well, and as Justine Smith writes in the introduction to her interview with Bohdanowicz for Seventh Row, “Assayas’s ghost movie is similarly about the relationships between technology and grief, as well as coincidence and spiritualism. In a way, all of Bohdanowicz’s films treat her artistic influences as part of the reality of her characters’ experience. More than just bookends or references, art is woven into the very fabric of the film’s existence, as potent as a memory or an encounter.”

Michael Sicinski finds Point and Line to Plane to be “a fascinating film that is half digressive essay, half statement of personal mourning, and the halting, formalist tone Bohdanowicz and Campbell adopt throughout the film seem designed to confound the viewer's customary avenues of feeling . . . What Bohdanowicz's film actually does is keep us suspended, and by doing so, convey the feeling of suspended time that characterizes mourning, almost transmitting it by convection.”

When Point and Line screened in Toronto, Pat Mullen interviewed Bohdanowicz and Campbell for POV Magazine, and they told him that they’re currently writing another “Audrey installment,” a feature to be shot in three different countries. Campbell, in the meantime, will soon reunite with director Kazik Radwanski and actor Matt Johnson for a followup to last year’s Anne at 13,000 ft. In Matt and Mara, she’ll play a professor whose marriage is going through a rocky period when she meets Matt, a friend from her past.

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