Last week, I attended the Sundance Film Festival. As you can imagine, I was particularly interested in films with a strong sense of place. Two of the films I chose to go see were 6 Desires: DH Lawrence and Sardinia and Things of the Aimless Wanderer.

6 DESIRES: DH LAWRENCE AND SARDINIA

What intrigued me about this film:

It’s a response to a travel book DH Lawrence wrote about his trip to Sardinia, Italy in 1921. I had, of course, intended to read the book (Sea and Sardinia) before attending, but ran out of time (it’s free on Kindle in case you’re curious).

It’s directed and written by Mark Cousins, an experimental filmmaker from Belfast, Northern Ireland who often focuses on the history and evolution of film.

Here’s an interesting interview with him about his goals for his film THE STORY OF FILM

What impressed me about 6 DESIRES:

The opening shot. A pink and purple sunset reflected off the water as a massive ship inches closer to the shore. A lighthouse on a man-made peninsula. The flickering lights in the city. The sound of a fog horn.

The conversational tone of the narrator. It could just be that I am a fan of Northern Irish accents, but Mark’s smooth voice accompanied perfectly the imagery and pensive narrative of the film.

The challenge to the audience. 6 DESIRES pushes the envelope in form and raises many questions: what makes a film? How involved can an audience be in the film?

What disappointed me about 6 DESIRES:

Some of the cinematography left much to be desired. At times, the film felt like it was trying too hard to be different. Odd angles, dissatisfying frames that left out much of the “bigger picture”, over usage of uninteresting footage.

The editing. Many of the transitions were very abrupt — especially between footage from old films and footage shot for 6 DESIRES.

A lack of clear direction during the film. They were loosely following a “pursuit of 6 desires”, but there was little build-up or obvious driving action leading to those desires.

THINGS OF THE AIMLESS WANDERER

What intrigued me about this film:

It takes place in Rwanda and follows the story of a white American journalist who falls for a local Rwandan girl right before she disappears. The film is supposed to be about the sensitive relations and misunderstandings between westerners and Africans.

Written and directed by Kivu Ruhorahoza, a native Rwandan filmmaker focused on telling the stories of the Rwandan people — their past, their present, and their future. His is a voice we don’t often hear in western film.

Here he is in an interview about his film GREY MATTER.

What impressed me about this film:

The quality of the cinematography. Filmed entirely on the Black Magic Cinema Design Camera, the clarity of picture and composition of the shots are pretty incredible.

The scenery. One of the reasons I like watching foreign films is to get a strong sense of a place I’ve never been before. The shots of Rwanda throughout THINGS OF THE AIMLESS WANDERER established the place effectively.

The music score. Each main character had his or her own style of music depending upon his or her role in the film. In the Q&A after the film, the editor explained the care with which these instruments were chosen.

What disappointed me about THINGS OF THE AIMLESS WANDERER:

The plot. In that it was very difficult to follow. While the images were laid out artistically and every shot was clearly deliberate (as we later learned during the Q&A), the metaphorical images and parallel story lines were difficult to follow.

The sometimes painfully long scenes. For a relatively short film (77 minutes), there were a number of scenes that just seemed to drag on and on. The opening scene, for instance, lasted somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes and struggled to introduce a main conflict. I got that many of the scenes were meant to be painful and haunting for the audience, but they often just made me agitated and bored.

The title could be better. It’s basically saying, “This movie has no point. It’s just some things about a guy who has no purpose.” A better title could have helped enlighten the audience where the film itself failed to.

A Comparison of 6 DESIRES: DH LAWRENCE AND SARDINIA and THINGS OF THE AIMLESS WANDERER

6 DESIRES and THINGS OF THE AIMLESS WANDERER both set out to accomplish a lot. Unfortunately, they both fell short. But each in a different way. In 6 DESIRES, the film plays out as an open letter to DH Lawrence and develops almost as an essay would: a discussion about Lawrence’s intentions and inspirations for his book Sea and Sardinia. The audience is given almost too much information, and provided with few inspiring visuals.

THINGS OF THE AIMLESS WANDERER had the opposite problem: too little information and too much reliance on metaphorical imagery that left the audience lost and confused. Both films are inspired works of art that unfortunately do not accomplish the grand aspirations their creators clearly had for them. They do, however, call into question the definition of a “travel film”, film with a strong sense of place, and film in general and I will be interested to see what these directors produce next.