The Road (2001). If the visual expression of artistic process in Federico Fellini’s surreal and reflexive film, 8 1/2 were to be distilled into the spare, elemental cinema of Abbas Kiarostami, the result would likely be similar to Darezhan Omirbaev’s evocatively muted, endearing, innately affectionate, and poetic film, The Road. A pensive director named Amir Kobessov (played by fellow Kazhakstanian filmmaker, Jamshed Usmanov) is currently in the process of editing his next film (based on Omirbaev’s Killer) when he receives a telegram informing him of his mother’s illness and is encouraged by his wife to return to his rural hometown and pay a visit. Alternately reflecting on dilemmas of artistic integrity, cultural and traditional reverence, self-doubt, inspiration, marital friction, fidelity, physical attraction, and familial estrangement, The Road is a visually sublime and understatedly metaphoric insight into the creative – and innately human – struggle of the contemplative soul.
Love Torn in Dream (2000). Raoul Ruiz’s Love Torn in Dream is an inscrutably hypnotic, painterly, structurally organic, and logically impenetrable film that lyrically and visually conflates a series of historical periods, role-swapping character actors, and states of consciousness into a fanciful – albeit distended and maddeningly opaque – tale of love, fate, and destiny. Similar to Time Regained in the lush imagery and temporal fluidity of the film, Love Torn in Dream episodically interweaves several fable-like stories that include of a band of pirates marooned on a coast, a seminarian who plays an innocuous prank on a demure and beautiful nun at the confessional, a young man searching for his father, a restless wife who pines for her absent husband, and a fatigued web developer who discovers an internet site that predicts his actions 24 hours in advance. However, despite its sumptuous texturality and intricate composition, the film suffers from a tediously repetitive and defiantly nonsensical and idiosyncratic absurdist tone.
Happy Here and Now (2002). A young woman named Amelia (Liane Balaban), has arrived to New Orleans to search for her sister, Muriel (Shalom Harlow) after she abruptly and inexplicably lost contact with her, and the key to the beautiful young woman’s disappearance seems to lie in the formatted hard drive of her laptop computer. It is through this mysterious framework that Michael Almereyda explores the growing phenomenon of technological alienation in Happy Here and Now. The opening shot of Almereyda’s organically fluid, understated, and intriguing film is composed of a pixellated, split framed monitor image of a private webchat as a highly articulate, self-confident, and dashing firefighter, Eddie Mars (Karl Geary) discusses the illusion of human contact in the virtual social environment of the internet with a solemn – and achingly receptive – Muriel. As the young man seductively muses on late night online chats on the surrogacy of online avatars, illusion of perfect love, and elusive ideal of platonic relationships, the film serves as an insightful meditation on the nature of reality, disconnection, and intimacy.
demonlover (2002). The insidious consequences of technology are similarly explored in Olivier Assayas’ ambitious, savage, and thematically replete, but ultimately unfocused and tangentially occluded feature demonlover. The initial premise of the film centers on the ruthless machinations of competing corporations as they respond to the delicate final negotiations over a partnership with a successful Japanese animé studio that is currently developing hyperrealistic 3D adult manga animation for the internet: code named “demonlover”. But in order to finalize the highly lucrative and symbiotic venture, the individual parties are compelled to address several commercially inconvenient and questionable internet ventures, including a possible association with a notorious, real-time snuff-broadcasting underground website ominously known as the Hell Fire Club. Unfortunately, despite Assayas’ admirable exploration of a difficult and complex subject on the blurred delineation between reality and fantasy, consumerism and exploitation, the film suffers from a meandering, preposterous, and schizophrenic plot that inevitably dilutes the film’s relevant, underlying themes of corporate greed, technological amorality, and voyeurism.
Acquarello, 2003 [reprinted]