Sunday, April 02, 2006

ND/NF, Day 4

First on the Moon

After yesterday's disappointing Old Joy, it's time to make a U-turn towards the other end of the spectrum. The Dutch 30-minute 'short' Still World and the Russian feature First on the Moon celebrate monochrome celluloid, photography and genuine experimentation.

Still World by newcomer Elbert van Strien charts a journalist's descent into paranoia through a series of black and white film stills. Shot digitally by one of Holland's most adventurous DP's, Guido van Gennep, the resulting 'film' has been transferred to 35mm. The succession of photos acquires a rhythm of its own, always in tandem with the journalist's voice-over and strategically placed sound effects. The journalist gets a mild case of mid-life crisis when his untalented friend Max publishes a novel. This soon spirals into conspiracy theories and ends in a Paul Auster-like chase.

First of the Moon also relishes the power of the black and white image. Alexey Fedorchenko comes from the Ural mountains, Russia's isolated heartland. Although he trained at the VGIK film school in Moscow, he's been affiliated with the local Sverdlovsk studio. To be at the center of such a vast country must give artists plenty to think about without too many outside distractions.

If First of the Moon has any influences to show for, it is probably the hand of fellow Sverdlovsk-born filmmaker Alexey Balabanov (Brat, War). Balabanov's Of Freaks and Men (1998) is the sepia-toned story of a German photographer's career in 19th century St. Petersburg, where he becomes the city's first pornographer. First of the Moon is a faux documentary about a top secret mission. Apparently, at the height of Stalinist terror, a group of cosmonauts made it to the moon as early as 1938. Just like his more well-known colleague Balabanov, Fedorchenko must have had a ball constructing the fake historical sequences, sepia-toned photo materials and humorous situations. His pleasure beams from the big screen at Lincoln Center, where such celebration of the medium truly belongs.

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