Starring Peter Hoffman
Directed by Nicholas Rey
Nicholas Rey – pronounced nicoLAH – is a French filmmaker whose newest offering is an unconventional adaptation of Gunther Anders’ posthumously published novel called The Molussian Catacomb. The director has chosen to adapt the novel despite not having read it because it has no French – nor English – translation. He thus has to rely on friends who read German and can recommend passages for him, his story about two prisoners recalling a man’s rise to power like an infamous 20th century European dictator.
Under the Wavelengths program at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, differently Molussia is made up of nine reels shown in random order. The movie’s aesthetic quality and/or lighting is under the mercy of 16mm stock, producing that sort of grainy look that makes the 2000’s or 2010’s look like the 1970’s. We the audience are hanging on to a few clues of place and context, the movie relying on mood and dread, and mostly relying on the recitation of the novel’s passages. The topics of the passages include deceit, blindness, frustration, irascibility, indifferent philistinism and anger – I don’t agree with the character talking about anger negatively, since anger to me means observation and a want for change. But what happens is that the characters about whom the voice over is speaking are changing for the worse.
For full disclosure, despite taking a class on avant-garde cinema and having seen movies by Germaine Dulac and Man Ray, I have not seen avant-garde cinema of this generation. With this training I can understand Rey’s aims of depicting desolation and emptiness which are or seem to be the novel’s main themes. He chooses Tarkovsky-esque b-roll depictions of nature, shots of suburbia reminiscent of the houses in Jacques Tati’s movie Mon Oncle, and shots of empty factories. That list’s order is influenced by the order in which the reels were shown in my screening. Nonetheless, those images convey emptiness more than what we would have had with a conventional adaptation. The conversations take place in a catacomb, would be like 80 minutes of darkness. But cinema requires action and this movie does not have it. I’m not saying that all nine reels are universally stagnant. There are camera spins in some reels, buzzing sound design in others. The reels with static shots, however, are almost unendurable and anti-cinematic.
But again, let’s go back to Rey’s aims in making the film. They might not have made for the best movie going experience but keep an open eye and mind when you watch it. If it comes (back) in the English-speaking world, that is.