Bipedality Ireland 2010
Directed by Rouzbeh Rashidi
Experimental Film Group
Bipedality is yet another of director Rouzbeh Rashidi’s “slow burn” movies. And by slow burn I mean it starts working on you right away but the power of it crawls slowly up your brainstem without you at first noticing it. Although, having said that... it has to be noted that the first couple of really strong shots in this film don’t so much crawl as, well... rather they sit you up and shake you and make you pay attention.
The film starts, you see, with two quite achingly beautiful tracking shots of an industrial landscape by a river and I just wish I’d at some point have gotten to see this on a bigger venue than just the screen of my Macbook Pro. Unfortunately, these kinds of films just don’t get cinema releases. The two shots pan up and down in their constant pursuit of travelling the length of the river and allowing viewers to take in certain details of the landscape... and these are accompanied by the sound of rain and thunder. These are pretty much the only moving camera shots in this whole piece.
In anybody else’s movie, this might be considered a typical opening play at an establishing shot... but this is Rashidi we’re talking about here. If you’ve seen any of his movies before (or even read my reviews) then you’ll know he’s just not going to be that interested in leaving it at that and, sure enough, he soon cuts to a shot of another landscape but the effect is jarring because it’s a) static and b) got a completely different soundtrack to the previous two shots... basically an audio representation of bird song and tranquility. Thus both the audio and the visual form, from moving to static, has a jarring effect on the viewer.
After a while we cut to the two main and, but for a few shots near the end, only characters in the movie. A man and a woman at, presumably, the start of a relationship (although they don’t know it yet) talking at length on a bench (and I suspect a lot of this was done without any script) about a five year old child who has gone missing since an incident involving a fire and their perceptions of a mother who has become desperate to find this child (naturally). This conversation, like all of the rest of the sequences in this film, is punctuated by intercut shots of different landscapes using different filters and treatments while the sound of the conversation continues on.
It seems to me that, from this first conversation onwards, the film then follows pretty much a pattern of a reflection of itself in terms of structure... the only thing really missing is two tracking shots to close out the picture. I’ll explain this a little more in a while but it’s interesting that the syntax I’ve used to describe the echoing scene structure is “reflection” because, it seems to me, Rouzbeh Rashidi’s film-making is all about inhabiting a “cinema of reflection”. I’ve noticed this before in his films but the words that are coming out of the characters mouths... even the way they interact with each other (with or without verbal stimuli), always confounds a conclusive comprehension of the scene because, like in real life perhaps, you are constantly aware that what is not being said by the characters is much more important than what’s actually coming out of their mouths.
Everyone always seems to be looking internally for some kind of universal truth which will help to get them through their day... or at least make them clearly understood. It’s like the characters are constantly exploring their inner dialogue trying to nail something which can’t quite be nailed. Now, you could say thay this is an expected outcome of the process of the acting if, as I believe, a lot of Rashidi’s films are improvised in terms of the craft. However, I personally believe the auteur is at work from the director in this matter because, this quality may well be exactly what Rashidi is looking for and why he so favours the form of improvisation over standard scripting techniques. I suspect he gives limitations and topics as opposed to handing out pages and pages of dialogue to his actors.
It always feels like his characters are looking for some sense of closure from the situation they’re in and Rashidi rarely shows these situations or catalysts in his work, just the “reflection” on these incidents. Frankly though, if these two particular characters are looking for some kind of relevance and closure from each other or by looking within themselves... well, they’re pretty much buggered if they’re in a Rashidi movie. Although, to be fair, in this movie there may well be a certain closure of a kind (if you don’t think about it too much)... but there’s not a whole lot of closure for the audience on this directors films, or at least that’s how it seems to me.
There’s a sense of trying out different visual techniques in this movie too. One brave shot has the two characters carrying out their conversation as a reflection of themselves in a moving body of water which is in front of them, even though there's been no visual indication in any of the previous shots that they are in front of said water.
After 25 minutes, the scene changes to an interior shot of a kitchen where the same guy and gal have obviously moved on in their relationship with each other. They are obviously living together but are having a bad time as their relationship has ground to a halt by the attitude of the woman to the object of her self reflection and inner life. It's uncomfortable to watch the couple bat around the death of their relationship, even as the discussion is both beautifully framed and again, like the earlier conversation, is punctuated by insert shots of beautiful scenery. And a lot of this scene is juxtaposed with the sounds of rain and thunder to enhance the tension beneath the words.
I wonder if Rashidi chooses the moments in a scene to cut away to an insert shot with a specific design or whether the positioning within the flow of the film is based on masking certain parts of the scenes “out” which Rashidi is less happy with. Again, there are some really great contrasts of texture and in one notable cut away, density is created with a shot of a forest which brings the simplicity of the textures and composition of the actual kitchen setting back into sharp relief on the return to the master shot.
After 15 minutes or so of this we cut to the guy having a shower... the woman watches him, although he is unaware of this. She seems underwhelmed. The two regroup on a sofa for another round of non-communication... this time, silent non-communication.
This goes into a minute or so of black before we cut back to the characters again as they have moved in a little more in time and are once again sitting on a bench and talking... athough it's not the same location as the earlier sequence. The woman seems less interested in being distant... but she's making no sense and a lot of this stuff reminds me of a past relationship I once had. Sometimes it's hard to unravel the truth of a matter if one of you is becoming slightly unhinged. It's actually a little frightening how the non-sequitur of the woman's dialogue, with her talk of knowing where the child mentioned in that first conversation disappeared to, can be used to indicate the fragility of us all... and reveal the truth that we are all, deep down, strangers to each other.
The missing child is, of course, a standard Rashidi set up to non-disclosure... although there is, surprisingly, a certain small sense of tension-release to this film at a non-verbal level... as the couple kiss passionately at the end. All this serves to increase awareness that the words of the characters are mostly irrelevant... as if Rashidi uses dialogue as mere window dressing to the more important aspects of dramatic tone and visual contrast in his work.
I said earlier that there was a certain reflecting quality to the scene structure and now I’ve got this far in the review I can reveal that it seems to go something like this...
TYPE A: Conversation in external location.
TYPE B: Conversation in internal location.
TYPE C: Shower scene (bodies of water and the sound of them seem to be a running theme for this movie).
TYPE B: Conversation in internal location.
TYPE A: Conversation in external location.
Now I don’t, for certain, know if the director planned this structure to push the “dual” element implied by a title like Bipedality (or just made this visually implicit by limiting the majority of the shots to a cast of two) but I’d like to think that there was a certain plan to structuring this movie like this. Perhaps to just pull the rug out and disorient the audience a little more by confounding the predictability of ending on a set of tracking shots (as I was expecting the film to end with while I was figuring out the scene sequence while watching).
But this is what Rashidi does. He doesn’t make films to pander to the narrative expectancy of an audience. He makes films which will challenge (to a certain degree) and certainly inspire an audience to look beyond their expected world view as it applies to watching movies. No answers are given and no answers are necessarily conceived... just a set of cinematic rocks to rub together to produce a certain friction of thought. The film Kill List, which had a mainstream cinema release earlier this year, does much the same thing but in a slightly more commercially acceptable manner.
I think what I’m trying to say here is that, as usual with a Rashidi movie, you get back what you put into it. Your place as a member of the audience is not to question why or fathom the problems and concerns of the character... it is to look at the characters and see them in both the simplicity and complexity of life and to draw your own sense of meaning (or lack thereof) from the visual and aural collisions on screen. And if you are willing to allow yourself to experience these kinds of films in these kinds of ways... then your rewards from viewing these kinds of movies will come to you and bring the kind of mental enrichment you require, without the necessity for clarification or meaning or, in this case, a sense of a mystery solved.
Lay down your tools and receive.