28 Sep 2018
Homo Sapiens Project (HSP) Vol 1-10
by Nikola Gocić
Encapsulated in heavy, bone-chillingly gloomy drones, the first offering in the long, ‘ongoing series of varied short films’ takes the viewer into the kitchen as seen through the eyes or rather, visual receptors of a mysterious being / entity who may be the incarnation of cinema itself. Yes, we do know that Rouzbeh Rashidi and Atoosa Pour Hosseini are, respectively, behind and in front of the camera, yet we can’t shake off the feeling that something / someone else is present there. And even when the tango music pops in, accompanying several couples passionately dancing in the park, the impression that daily life is disturbed by the Unknown doesn’t fade. The best is saved for the last – a contemplative ‘conclusion’ in which the author distorted through the fisheye perspective walks across the red carpet brings David Lynch to one’s mind. Welcome to HSP.
The second vignette of Rashidi’s most ambitious project to date (and doubtlessly one of the boldest cinematic undertakings of all time) reveals both the experimenter and the aforementioned, not easily identifiable force as ‘nocturnal animals’ who prowl in search for cyclists / pedestrians relishing in an evening ride / stroll. Draped in hypnotizing yellows, oranges and browns, it presents itself as the next few lines in the ‘oblique diary’ which features the flickering ‘outlining’ of the loved one, and not to mention a highly memorable Sokurov-esque shot of an old bicycle.
On the following ‘page’, it becomes clear as day (swallowing the warmly colored night and partly spent in a bus driving around Dublin) that Rashidi simultaneously paints the ‘possessed’, constantly mutating portraits of Atoosa Pour Hosseini, Ireland’s capital and its denizens, employing his own perception and inner life not only as a laboratory ‘reagent’ (in his own words), but as an invisible extension of his paintbrush as well. All the while, the enigmatic presence perseveres in its intents to alienate the viewer from the worldliness of beautifully composed images.
Its unnaturally rapid blinking makes the rupture in time-space continuum, and the rug under our feet is pulled, yet we do not fall. Instead, we are spirited away to Tehran on the wings of grainy, ‘fast-motion’ sequences to listen to the brief, mellifluous, melancholy-driven guitar concerto, only to be taken by the same, decidedly poetical means into an unspecified place possibly inhabited by spirits of the past. Turned into a character in its own right, the cozy, softly lit interior we’re now in appears to be filled with the bittersweet scent of slowly fading memories. Are we back in Dublin? Or should we ask: Does it matter where we are, if our disorientation is so inspiring and if the creator’s passion is so profoundly imbued in each frame?
On the other hand, there is something akin to menace awaiting in the exterior posing as the universe itself – compared to its inconceivable vastness, the ‘wise man’ is infinitely small. Playing with the viewer’s expectations, the sixth installment of HSP is somewhat comparable to those moments in horror films that precede the jump scare, without the actual jump scare ever happening. Regardless of the eerie cricket choir and a few pebbles thrown into a ditchwater as an invitation for a creature hiding in the pond (the amphibious humanoid from the Black Lagoon, perhaps?), these tense scenes deviate into the almost comforting, meditative zone. The illusion strengthens…
… but also strengthening is the haunting atmosphere during the 7th installment of HSP series which begin to gradually decompose under the ever-increasing influence of the Unknown. In the rhythmic exchange between the B&W tableau of clouds passing over the full Moon, and the ‘chameleonic’ photograph of an elderly couple staring at a giant man in their living room, one may recognize a sort of an homage to the original Twin Peaks. The oft-quoted ‘the owls are not what they seem’ line from the cult TV show rings true once the entrancingly brooding superimposition comes into play.
HSP (8) treats us to the evoking, puzzling, provoking, associative and above all, tightly edited chaos of found Super 8 footage that takes the decaying process to a higher level. The cinematic phantasm has already absorbed most of the quotidian regularities, and plunged us into the world of alternative reality of rapturous, Brakhage-esque visions. However, the unexpected teleportation has us back in a docu-like realm of dog walkers, quiet trees and impromptu self-portraits, with static noise portals and black holes masquerading as shadows still opened for further exploration.
Another moment of (oneiric) clarity is brought by the concluding film of the HSP Vol. 1 which sees a sunny summer day as an integral link in the chain of introspective dreams, and we realize that it is the projection of the artist’s radiant soul we have been watching (think Testament of Orpheus). But, the stream-of-(sub)consciousness odyssey doesn’t end there, because the limits of cinema have not been tested enough yet.
A logical continuation of the previous segment, HSP (11) has the qualities of the anthropological study conducted by the very same alien factor whose presence is strongly felt throughout this peculiar anthology. Under disturbingly motionless clouds (isn’t that just an illusion?), in a park as green as Ireland gets, and adorned with colorful flower beds, children are playing, lovers are kissing, friends are engaging in conversation and loners are reading or reclining on the grass, their voices shrouded in silence, while the said ‘factor’ is collecting data for itself or maybe, its superiors. Is that a confusion it expresses at coming in contact with hyperrealistic stone sculptures?
‘Yes’ could be the answer, at least according to the spectrally ethereal HSP (12) which traps us in the innermost labyrinth of its warped mind. Once again, we meet the auteur whose confidence is reassuring, although he doesn’t give us a red thread – hopefully, there’s no Minotaur hiding in any of those corridors, dreamily blurry as if filtered through Guy Maddin’s magical prism. The odd, crackling sound of unknown origin puts us in a trance-like state, emphasizing ‘the inexhaustible mysteriousness of the moving image’, as Rashidi puts it in his statement.
And then, a sudden interruption in the form of subliminal messages… no, mind-boggling emissions of the purest light dissolved by enlightening darkness. A dizzying spiral down the luminous void; a glimpse from within the most hidden recesses of the film itself, at once embodied and disembodied, real and deceptive, present and absent in the shapelessness of shapes, in the ambiguousness of the obvious, in the sublime otherworldliness of the expanding universe. ‘I want to be devoured by this impermanence of elusive shadows.’ – a gravelly inner voice speaks. We are completely lost, but not frightened in the surreal Twilight Zone where the pieces of Rashidi’s and Pour Hosseini’s portraits lie scattered around. Do they fit into a different jigsaw puzzle, the one that’s vaguely reflected on the surface of the river? Maybe we should carefully re-listen Zulfikar Filandra’s ‘lullaby by way of Vangelis’s and Badalamenti’s extraterrestrial doppelgängers’ music score…
HSP (16) provides a brief relief from the delightful delirium of the preceding three miniatures, by virtue of ‘distantly-framed meditations’ most probably inspired by the works of Aleksandr Sokurov (and don’t be surprised if the great Russian filmmaker’s name gets more mentions hereafter). It is admirable how effortlessly the captured ordinariness of human existence gets ‘extra’ prefix and how frequent changes in rhythms, textures and moods are dealt with. Isn’t life similarly disorganized despite our plans? Yet, it is not its imitation we witness, not even in the empty stares through the train and hotel windows (17) corresponding with the director’s penchant for long takes. They reveal a secret – cinephilia is a chronic condition…
… hence the tilted angles of (18) – another joyride, but this time diurnal, shows the world from a bike’s perspective. Why not? It is just a bit weirder (and crazier) than the cat’s point of view from Juraj Herz’s gothic melodrama Morgiana… and broodingly monochromatic, with a tendency to turn the tangible into abstract. This fine piece of avant-garde science fiction keeps growing along with the autobiographical ‘madness’, pulling the unsuspecting victims, so to speak, into a parallel life of inspired artifice and metaphysical speculations.
Add a circle of swarming grain to the center of the frame – a reminder of the extraneous influence, and a simple view of a dog and two chairs in the garden becomes an attractive showpiece in an art gallery frequented by your friends who are transformed into the characters of a fragmented ‘story’. The whole world is a canvas, whereby the painter is extremely passionate in his desire to transform it into his own playground where micro-paintings are to be born and raised into a unique Oneness.
In a sort of a meta-flashback which ends with the fourth wall covered in white light to be broken into diffusive smithereens, the capricious entity that has taken control over the creator, his tools and his creation(s) re-visits some of the places shown during the 16th étape of its (and our) long journey. These ‘stations’ have drastically changed to fit its current ‘Weltanschauung’. The noise it produces is reminiscent of a fan and wind blowing in tune, and it makes us mildly irritated as well as uneasy, to a certain extent.
Louder and spookier is the soundscape of HSP (22) in which a river whirlpool acts as a passageway for newly awaken supernatural forces whose intention is translated into a glum piano improvisation performed by a secluded man in someone’s salon. Neither we, nor the abovementioned entity have any clue as to what they are capable of, but the visuals are so enthralling, it doesn’t matter. Even if they are hell-bent on destroying the film and successful at achieving it, we know that the film will rise from the ashen static noise like a phoenix who flaps its wings 24 times per second, and makes ear-piercing screeches.
Informed by the history of cinema, the following four chapters which have those enigmatic, ever-present powers hibernating (filming is dreaming) operate as not-so-obvious homages, though there must be more to murky, sinister yellows of (23) than just being tint-hints to giallo. (The audience familiar with the Irish underground scene will surely recognize Maximilian Le Cain for the third time already, and it’s only natural for him to be a part of the project, considering his involvement in Rouzbeh Rashidi’s artistic evolution, and in the continuous development of Experimental Film Society into a company.)
Depressingly beautiful and fragile like an old artifact discovered in a corroded metal box, HSP (24) hauntingly evokes the silent era and for some reason, A Page of Madness (1926) imposes itself as a reference point, but it also brings Yevgeny Yufit’s necrorealism to (this writer’s) mind, in spite of its perpetual kineticism. The 25th entry gives the 70s grindhouse / B-horror vibe, so it could be interpreted as a bold de(con)struction of a serial killer thriller, with the kills and thrills left to our imagination.
Falling somewhere in-between early Dadaist and ‘cityscapist’ cinema, HSP (26) is one of the most abstract and stupendous of the bunch, with people’s and objects’ shadows and reflections captured in various states of distortion under the watchful eye of pigeons looming over the city (like they’re practicing for The Birds remake). But, what is actually at work here is an ‘alchemical’ process that begins with a cheap camera and goes all the way to a heavy post-production.
Which is where the venomously green patina similar to the processed Super 8 tape must be coming from, deepening the discord between the trees and a crowd at a party that we see and the steam train whistling and rolling that we hear. Simultaneously baffling and fascinating, this incongruity urges us to keep dreaming together with the engine driver himself.
Along the railway to an unspecified destination, we’re near the village of Hypnagogia (28) in which time-lapse effect warps daily activities and preparations for shooting into a darkly surreallistic extravaganza. (At this moment, we’re pretty sure that Rashidi is able to achieve ‘surreality’ by the simplest of means.) From a spacious room reminiscent of the one from Margerite Duras’s Jaune le soleil (must be the tiling), a small crew is ‘fast-forwarded’ into a found-footage horror-like setting, with a brief, yet intelligible voice-over breaking the silence.
Wrapped up on a hallucinatory note, HSP (29) follows our prolific filmmaker on what appears to be a location hunt, and amalgamates some of his creative preoccupations in a HDV-meets-Super 8 ‘spectralization’ of his mundanity. Alien visual receptors are still closed, which is presumably why the large portions of the image are blurred, hiding the truth and revealing what’s beyond it.
A sudden wakening comes with a half-hour documentary on a specimen of actor species, the talking head being James Devereaux who will collaborate with Rashidi on several occasions (look for The Improvisational Cinema of Rashidi and Devereaux). Interspersed by neat ‘sketches’ showcasing the man’s subtle expressiveness, Devereaux’s soliloquy introduces us not only to his own persona and attitudes, but also to his theatre and independent cinema-related experiences. With a visualized aura of respect surrounding him, he speaks of his non-artistic background in South Wales, method acting, American adventure, self-written plays and bad films made by people lacking dedication, inter alia, until the screech of a phoenix-film interrupts him.
Devereaux’s talk continues in an anecdotal and rather colorful mode, with the pulsating splashes of paint layered over the static shot of him sitting in front of a white wall (now, this is how you turn water into wine). As he addresses the time he spent in Rashidilandia, the accent being on Closure of Catharsis district, some of his words get muffled or rather, swallowed by the unearthly you-know-what that is ready to spread its claws (tentacles?) again and convert a daily life into a surprising sensation.
According to HSP (32), a daily life (of an artist) should be scheduled in a way that the parts of it are spent in self-reflection, no matter how arrogant that may sound. And in this case, self-reflection is closely connected to Praxinoscope (not to be confused with the 19th century animation device of the same name) whose remains are transmuted into the extremely lyrical, silent-movie-esque memories. Zulfikar Filandra, Atoosa Pour Hosseini and Alma Šabanadžović find themselves whisked away into a fluctuating reverie which parallels the Rashidian romantic dramedy they starred in.
More material is recycled (this time from Poetics, released in 2014) and some literal reflexions are included in the 33rd piece of HSP series. The extempore choreography performed by the members of Polish Theatre Ireland increases the sense of existential uncertainty which has been present in most, if not all of Rashidi’s offerings. A ballet studio equipped with mirrors becomes a laboratory for further cinexploration, whereby the author’s uncanny, undetectable companion whose point of view we’ve taken since the very beginning resumes its own studies (filming is dancing).
A rumination-inspiring intermission and an austerely abstract phantasmagoria, the 4th entry of the 4th volume has the viewer disoriented to the point of leaning back to the chair and taking a stab at writing a few haiku-like poems, something along these lines:
Like pixelized glitches,
Find a void.
Opens the mind of a bird
Hypnotized by an
I bathe in this peace.
And in the ostensible peace of an acting workshop-like setting, we recognize the faces of Polish Theatre Ireland and amongst them, one of Experimental Film Society’s favorite thespians, Cillian Roche, all deeply engrossed in the intentionally muted rehearsal for an unspecified play. Stronger than ever before, both the influence of and the immense love for the silent cinema work wonders for HSP 35, 36 and 37, so what would otherwise be labeled as ‘a stylistic exercise’ is elevated to a full-fledged ‘triptych film’, a non-narrative, genre-defying and boundary-pushing one at that. Especially attractive is the second of the said trio, with the colors of the original footage inverted then filtered in sepia tones, and with visible scratches and exaggerated gestures enhancing the superb retro vibe.
The 38th installment in the HSP series revives early talkies without any actual talking, noir-izing the playfulness of Devereaux and Rashidi (hidden in the shadows) who test their percussionist skills on triangle and chimes. Waking their inner children, they create an eerily sonorous song that mutates into a dense, feverish and intense aural assault by the end. Their almost ritualistic noise-breeding (in one static shot only!) carries on in the following, melancholy-inducing segment washed in fiery yellows and oranges that are invaded by strangely juxtaposed black and white, frame-within-frame sequences of a man in an elevator, a young woman in a forest and a pair of dying fish on a plate. (After so much mentioning of extraneous forces, invasion was inevitable.)
Perfectly timed and most distancing of the Vol. 4 bunch is the impressionistic account on Operation Rewrite exhibition by Maximilian Le Cain and Esperanza Collado whose appearances are much closer to that of a disguised couple from another galaxy than to the subjects of a documentary. The main reason for such odd result lies in Rashidi’s ‘alien vision’ (as Le Cain puts it in his writings) which causes occasional film tape meltdowns.
At the beginning of Volume 5, let us give a name to the paradigmatic impulse that is the outworldly (or maybe inworldly) unknown, by borrowing it from the title of the helmer’s last short film prior to this project, Entity of Haze (hereafter, EoH). During HSP (41), its areas of interest are micro-acting and improvisational capacity of James Devereaux whose character is transposed to the real/our world, together with his imaginary interlocutor – think special agent Dale Cooper in the epilogue of Twin Peaks: The Return, but six years before it was released! To quote the (closely observed) hero: “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. That’s why it’s not worth bothering explaining it to you.”
Diving deeper into Rashidi’s ‘private nightlife’ of ‘metaphorical secret addiction’, we acquire more proofs of EoH’s anarchic patterns of behavior which cause some weird, hard-to-describe disruptions so grainy that the Pixelvision sequences of Michael Almereyda’s Nadja appear crystally clear. And the train (of ungraspable thoughts) goes on and on. The next thing we know is that we are on a ship in the open sea, after a few moments spent in a harbor where we were surrounded by mobile cranes, reach stackers and cargo containers. A slightly windy and foggy day epitomizes solitude spreading like a disease towards the infinity of the horizon…
… and causing a serious case of discoloration in five out of six home-video ‘decompositions’ getting sick six times (yes, this is yet another Lynch reference). ‘Episodes’ 44-49 are all without exception successful experiments with a capital E; cinematic equivalents of musical variations composed by a maestro. They form a particular kind of an avant-garde horror within the ‘horror’ of metaphysical proportions – of being ‘homo sapiens’ who perseveres despite the incapability to fully fathom one’s own soul, whatever that incorporeal essence may be.
Philosophical guesswork aside, these freaks of (archival) Super 8 nature provide us with plenty of admirable visual ‘trickery’ by virtue of which the children playing and parading are Begotten-ized into spooks, a newlywed couple is threatened to be sucked into a black hole, and holiday frolics are imbued with a foreboding sense of transience. Occasionally, the screen is split in two or multiple parts, so it is virtually impossible to catch everything that is going on in the clash of (not-so-titanic) memories processed beyond recognition into the flickering mirror of artist’s (sub)consciousness. All the while – it goes without saying – EoH’s sway rarely wanes and we slowly fall under it, in the irregular rhythms of unsettling scratching, rustling and pattering which opens the way to mechanical humming and ‘a machine gun by way of a typewriter’ rattling. In the wildest for the (Super 8) last, we see houses, cows and horses juxtaposed to the three women stuck in a never-ending loop of trippy superimpositions, and our mind is on the verge of exploding into hyper-grainy oblivion.
However, HSP (50) lifts the heavy clouds of foreigners’ mementos via the heartfelt, Jonas Mekas-esque reminiscences of Iran represented as fading postcards brought to airy life. White borders of each frame point at innocence embodied in a little girl who ‘coincidentally’ appears in Atoosa Pour Hosseini’s Silences made in the same year. The child’s disarming smile blows away the thick mist of inevitability…
Opening with the creepiest film about an ordinary day in suburbs, Vol. 6 is gradually and intuitively transfigured into a deliciously delirious amalgamation of silent movie homages and ‘adopted’ Super 8 memories similar to those vividly experienced throughout the previous volume, but more on that a bit later on.
An awkward, almost pre-apocalyptic quietude which marks HSP (51) is achieved via the starkly austere interplay between lingering takes and remote, unapologetically morose droning that injects a hefty dose of dread into a domestic atmosphere. Before we know it, the preparations for some meat-grilling in the backyard induce a peculiar anxiety which grows as a bleak afternoon fades into a chilly evening (at a train station). (Not even Mr. Bean’s mopping and mowing glimpsed on a TV screen in the corner of a dimly lit living room can shake off the unpleasant feeling.) The ostensibly peaceful morning intensifies the fear and we are reminded of EoH’s presence by virtue of hand-made filters set over the lens in order to further ‘alienize’ the eye of a camera.
In an irrational twist (not the first, nor the last), we are plunged into a flickering nightmare of non-concreteness which is actually a tribute to an exhibition, Seeing the Light, curated by Maximilian Le Cain. A choir of wolves howls away the clarity and leaves us submerged in the ethereal elusiveness of (EoH’s?) lycanthropic eclipse. Prolonging this bad yet visually arresting dream is a test-screening for an EFS-hosted event. Draped in a grainy cloak of gray, the fast-forwarding sequences which see Le Cain and Rashidi engaged in the venue-prearrangements are eventually ‘assaulted’ by a great, spine-tingling, blast-from-the-past track à la John Carpenter.
The abovementioned delirium begins with the HSP’s 54th film which appears as one of the earliest experimental documentaries (we’re talking the threshold of the 20th century) conducted by someone who was able to travel through time and acquire the footage from the future (that is now our past). Simulating a projection directly onto EoH’s (flailing?) mind (or whatever is analogous to it), this cinematic phantasm portends the second set of Rashidian variations in which subverted imagery (of circus animals, childhood, so-called happy occasions etc) is accompanied by repetitive soundscapes, oft-arrhythmic and defying any description.
An uncompromising series of spatio-temporal ruptures has family home videos desensitized into brilliant examples of bold explorative film, calling for a raving lyrical intermezzo…
Under the liquid surface of oscillating mirage, we are compelled to take a deep breath and surrender to the spiraling turmoil of sugarcoated bitterness. (The plane crashed in a Zoo.) But still our swollen ears haven’t got used to the murmurs of a broken heart monitor, and still our widely opened eyes vainly try to accommodate to the trembling visions behind that barely transparent curtain. (The cake was too sweet.) Riding on the back of a black unicorn, his trot scratching faux celluloid skies, we arrive to the right place, and it is a muddy place, because the solution wronged us. (No one was waiting there.) Unrecognizable and enveloped in an aura of echoing whispers, our third inner voice speaks: “In Exile we trust.”
James Devereaux gets cast again, this time as an unsuspecting protagonist of a ‘POV slasher meets Danse Macabre’-esque short which is ghostlier than the footage of the cursed VHS tape from the Ringu series (let’s just hope that the phone won’t ring). Replete with apparitional visions that are married to fiendish wheezing, HSP (61) is a mighty fine piece of über-arthouse horror. Equally mystifying, though a bit tamer in terms of inducing the unexplainable fear, the next installment is the umpteenth reminder why the viewers suffering epileptic seizures should think twice before checking out the ‘distillation and culmination’ of Rashidi’s filmmaking practice. Stroboscopically aggressive during both the prologue and the epilogue, it contains the scenes with a few unnamed interviewees silenced into being EoH’s potential guinea pigs.
The atmosphere of ominous calm before the destructive storm prevails in HSP (63) as well, with all the light sources, such as lamp posts captured from behind the drapery, being assigned the roles of the harbingers of doom. An enigmatic figure cloaked in dense shadows certainly does not alleviate the sense of impending danger. Could that be EoH’s human form? The 4th and the 5th part of Vol. 7 suggest ‘yes’ may be the answer, but you never now – the secret remains unveiled, hidden in smoke, drenched in somber sepia tones, and laced with unnerving stillness. But, it is pretty safe to assume that the hooded and possibly inhuman stranger who roams the darkened rooms of someone’s home is up to no good.
All of the sudden, in a comic twist, we are DumbLand-ed amongst the trembling, childish doodles which have us briefly relieved from the preceding gloom, although the unabating scratching and scrubbing in the background warns us of the gloom yet to come. A glance at the auteur, his face bathed in the light of a monitor screen (in an editing room?), bridges the gap from white to black, whereas the voyeuristic shot of Maximilian Le Cain engaged in a conversation foreshadows another wicked wave of Super 8 specters. The patina of vagueness falls to cover the found footage of HSP (67) and (69), all in correspondence with Rashidi’s fetishistic relation to the purposefully damaged picture. Barely distinguishable, the relics from the past are dissolved into abstract patterns, either by means of a feverish montage, or through the utilization of TV-static-like solvents (not to mention the mixture thereof).
Sandwiched between the two hyper-grainy ghost-films (or rather, cinematic emanations) is a kind of a visual throwback to HSP (36); a ‘negative sepiazation’ of what looks like a modern performance set at some harbor. Dipped into stringy noise resembling the computerized cries of a mandolin, this instance of inspired WTFery may be interpreted as a showcase of EoH’s influence over humans (and particularly artists). However, some specimens of ‘homo sapiens’ still haven’t fallen under its sway. Such is the case with Rashidi’s frequent collaborator Ehsan Safarpour who is seen around a remote cabin preparing meat-chops for the guardian dogs of an ostrich farm, in Vol. 7 conclusion which is a strong contender for the flattering title of the spiritual predecessor of a glorious docu-fiction Phantom Islands. Made into the protagonists of a minimalist, formally striking ‘drama’ (with small traces of The Thing in its DNA), a man, his best friend and the industrial surroundings ‘sing’ the bluesy ode to snowy winter.
Despite being as grandiose as Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings (think Monk by the Sea or Rocky Reef on the Sea Shore de-romanticized into dystopian Fata Morganas), landscapes in the mist of the previous volume’s final segment are far from acting as precise signifiers of things to come. They make way for some pretty intimate moments in the helmer’s daily life viewed through the fisheye-like lens that we already encountered at the beginning of our journey through the entangled and oft-shapeshifting labyrinth of Rashidilandia. It is amazing how the most banal of actions, such as taking a leak, are given a new, immeasurable dimension.
An unforeseen turn leads us into the corridor of daring experiments doubtlessly informed by Chris Marker’s featurette La Jetée. Further radicalizing the ‘photo novel’ concept, Rashidi delivers five remarkable pieces of time-freezing proportions. Initially, he employs a single (yes, a single!) 35mm B&W photograph of two elderly ladies chatting on a sidewalk to create a seven-minute film. This may not sound very exciting on paper, but with the help of strobing effects, negatives, zoom-ins and distorted electronic score, a mundane scene of geriatric ennui is science-fictionalized into a moody simulacrum of EoH’s swiveling thoughts.
HSP (73) and (75) provide a few more insights into the portrait of Atoosa Pour Hosseini, with the fragments of her reality shattered into monochromatic dreams. The former chronicles the ‘subject’s’ evening strolls during which strange interferences occur (or maybe, they’re nothing but the figments of our imagination?), whereas the latter has a love letter to Marker written in cursive and under hypnosis by the earliest silent horror movies, with oneiric superimpositions inducing pareidolia. Squeezed in-between these two is an ordinary night near a metro station faded into the opaque abyss of sleeping consciousness, and soldered by a metalized racket.
The computer-generated blood splashes of HSP (76) confirm ‘a totally organic metamorphosis’ the project has undergone, identifying it and, generally speaking, film, with the organism which bleeds red, like its own architect. (Whether the bleeding is external, internal or metaphorical is difficult to deduce.) In ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ twist, found photographs of classy cabinets and Hitler (!) are followed by the footage of a couple trapped in rear projections involving roller-coaster and aquarium, as well as of Rashidi and Pour Hosseini goofing around in front of a web-camera. On top of that, there’s the flashing ending that can be described as ‘your mind on drugs, whilst enduring a probing session in an alien spaceship’.
A delightful tribute to the late acclaimed filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos (whose masterful coming-of-age road movie was referenced in the first paragraph of the article’s 8th chapter), HSP (78) brings much-needed rest, calling the viewer to surrender and drown in its deep and dark shades of blue. Color-filtered into a wistful ode to melancholia, urban spaces and reflecting surfaces evoke earnest sadness… which can not prepare us for yet another pulling of the rug from under our feet. A trip of avant-prog-jazz-rock quality plunges us into the pool of stickier perplexity by virtue of phallic symbols (and their shadows), a fresco-like (Persian?) art, glowing Saturn, and Atoosa Pour Hosseini wearing swimming goggles (and looking like she wandered off the set of some Japanese cyberpunk extravaganza) incongurously spliced into a bizarre six-take miniature from beyond the outer limits.
Twenty steps to HSP (100) which once seemed so far out of reach, we get a cine-mimicry of a sex scene, as the ante-screening, screening and post-screening of an unnamed experimental film are identified with foreplay, intercourse and post orgasmic chill (which is, for the uninitiated, the title of Skunk Anansie’s third album). Of course, this is just an assumption based on similarities of certain Rashidi’s works to Dietmar Brehm’s opus.
Allow this writer to try a different approach with this particular volume, and write about it as if it were a non-omnibus feature which belongs to the infinite universe of Homo Sapiens Project. So, why the ninth, you ask? Well, let’s just say that falling for the alchemical, phantasmagorical traits of what’s turning out to be Rashidi’s magnum opus (at least in the terms of his ‘private nightlife’) has the power to inspire some pretty strange analogies. For instance, it can bring to your mind the likes of a rom-com fantasy Love Potion No. 9 starring Sandra Bullock and Tate Donovan, in spite of being far removed from the said genre. Get it? Never mind, if you don’t.
Following an abstract, extremely fragmented narrative of bewildering non-sequiturs, Vol. 9 makes David Lynch’s Inland Empire appear as a mainstream movie in comparison, not only because it stubbornly refuses to shape the story in a way that most of cinemagoers expect, but also for its use of various formats (mobile phone camera, DSLR, VHS and HDV) which creates a unique sense of ‘unified disparateness’. Opening with a sublimely beautiful vignette exuding warmth through the color palette of soft greens and gauzy sepia tones, this lyrical horror drama (for the lack of the more suitable terms) introduces us to a woman (Atoosa Pour Hosseini) and a place (presumably, Dublin) existing in a reality before the inception and after the conclusion; an inconceivable reality of pre-natal reveries and posthumous memories.
Just when we think we are floating in a dream, Rashidi plunges us into a nightmare of wildlife and micro- or macro-cosmic interferences mirroring the evil (demonic?) presence in the protagonist’s home. Her daily chores are now imbued with hair-raising chills wrapped in TV static, both visually and sonically, and intensified by Jason Marsh’s outstandingly creeptastic score seething beneath the restless surface. Outside of the woman’s house, we meet a man (played by the director himself) who may be anyone from a stalker to supernatural investigator to merely a shadow soon to disappear in the shimmering of a blue-tinted abyss. What is he scouting for? Is that the sound of the fourth wall crumbling, opening the passage for a meta-tale of an Iranian production that was stopped by the aforementioned forces?
The answers we are later given are so obscure, that we can only guess. One thing is for sure, though – the dense atmosphere becomes increasingly nightmarish, with a few moments of (behind-the-scenes) cheerfulness suffocated by the prevailing drone-fueled bleakness. Left to our own devices, we wonder and wander, stumbling through the dark forests of Rashidi’s Twilight Zone that is rife with Sisyphean loops and often shrouded in a fog so thick you could cut a slice of it and eat it. A couple of new characters (Ehsan Safarpour and Farvad Sadeghi) and a new place (Tehran?) add multiple layers to the proceedings, stirring our thoughts into a jumbled mess. Our disorientation – an integral part of the filmmaker’s grand design – is alleviated by the playfulness of the moving images whose intentional (wabi sabi) imperfections end up being their greatest forte. They throw us out of our comfort zone, yet comfort us back into the Nucleus of Self…
Unlike the preceding volumes in the series, No. 10 consists of nine instead of ten short films, with HSP (100) being a feature portrait of Maximilian Le Cain who is ‘enveloped in a hallucinatory audio-visual ambiance that ultimately results in a poetic dialogue with the ideas and feelings he expresses’, to quote the official summary. Judging by the hypnotically beautiful snippet which is a bonus feature for Vol. 10 at Vimeo on Demand, this description couldn’t be more fitting.
But, first things first. What you are about to read are the deciphered extracts from EoH’s lab diary, chapter titled ‘Of Friends, Self-Portraits and [alien gibberish] of the Past’.
From what I could figure out by browsing through my subject RR’s electrified consciousness, this high-contrast B&W gust of reminiscences might be the exact definition of ‘monkeying around’. A lad acts out facetiously and, occasionally, childishly to minimalist, somewhat cavernous sounds, in front of RR’s camcorder, which results in the evoking of the silent era by way of bloopers from a Philippe Garrel’s film gone wild.
Today, I learned of a gothic horror, The Vampire Lovers (directed by Roy Ward Baker in 1970), all thanks to RR’s borrowing of Harry Robertson’s theme composed for the said movie. Still looking at his past (humans’ nostalgia is a wondrous thing), I see RR getting into the role of a noirish ‘mono-thriller’ hero whose psyche gets gradually deteriorated which is depicted via various means – from jittery RGB lines to odd camera angles to sudden bursts of color – and emphasized by the dramatic, nerve-tingling orchestration. For some reason, the shot of a key covered in blood makes me think of Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon…
Even I get lost sometimes in the labyrinthine designs of my subject’s creation. The Devil Rides Out backwards, across the smörgåsbord of overlapping reflections, rhythmical blackouts, symmetrical colonnades and branches entangled into a web which conceals the gray sky. Not to mention that RR exhibits bizarre, almost animalistic behavior of flower eating.
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) – one of the most renowned artists here on Earth – painted Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear shortly after mutilating himself. I don’t know why I mention this now, considering that RR filming himself in the narrow alleyways, passageways and bookstore rows of Dublin has nothing to do with self-harm. Maybe it’s because of the brilliant frame compositions?
My subtle intervention turns the second impressionistic tribute to Operation Rewrite into a sinister procession of X-rayed tableau vivants coming to a halt for RR’s breakfast break that’s marked by an amplified ambient noise echoing into a wheezing void of mind-altering proportions…
The warmth exuding from the natural surroundings that reclaimed old ruins and, more importantly, from the lasting friendship between my subject and an individual called Maximilian Le Cain slowly disintegrates my presence, converting it into a thin fabric of dreams. Long, powerful, contemplative takes teleport me into a magical land of myths and fairy tales… If greenery could kill, I would already be dead. Oh, what a stunning, paralyzing beauty! It is really a shame it doesn’t last forever. Nothing does.
For a while, I struggle with the unfamiliar forces awakened by affectionate relationships. Stuck in a ramshackle attic to be adapted into an apartment, I feel fuzziness… A malfunction on a transmission line spins the narrative back to my advantage, with the ethereality of the atmosphere drowned by disquietude.
RR unearths French artifacts of human carnality from the 20s of the 20th century, and injects them into magnificent birdviews (or should I say, airplane views). These juxtapositions of heavenly vistas and what they call ‘porn’ are as contradictory as they’re intriguing, not to mention phantasmal and (Dietmar) Brehm-like. In moments like those, I wish I had a body of flesh.
There’s so much knowledge of the cinema history concentrated in RR’s head. Philippe Sarde’s music for Deux Hommes Dans La Ville plays, as I wonder whether those two men, Mr. Ehsan and Mr. Farvad, who share the residence with each other live in the same or parallel universes.
More info about Nikola Gocić HERE