Friday 17 February 2017
Directed by Eskil Vogt
Axiom Films Blu Ray Zone B
Eskil Vogt’s first feature film, Blind, is not one I’d actually heard of before attending last year’s London Film And Comic Con. There was a big area at the show representing Computer Exchange and while my friend and I were looking through the selection of cheap, second hand Blu Rays, he gave a triumphant shout and thrust this movie into my hand. “What’s this?” I said. My friend then replied words to the effect that he’d not actually seen it but it was critically acclaimed and that I should buy it because it has a blind woman walking around naked in it. I asked him if he was sure of the fact of there being a lot of gratuitous nakedity in the movie and he looked me dead in the eye and told me he was pretty sure. Since I realised I couldn’t turn a film down when it had obviously received such critical acclaim, I decided I would pay the princely asking price of £4 and see for myself the quality of the artistic intentions of the director.
Well, as it happens, while there is some brief nudity in this movie, there isn’t a whole lot. As it happens, though, this movie is a huge artistic triumph and was instantly compelling... so I’m not too fussed about the lack of sheer, blind sexiness in the movie, truth be told.
Blind starts off strong with a voice over narrative, which stays with us through the whole movie, presumably of the lead actress Ellen Dorrit Petersen as Ingrid, who used to be able to see but, because of a degenerative illness, is now blind... I think. Actually, that may be the truth or there may be another origin to this character’s blindness but... the movie’s narrative style is such that it both reveals and conceals in equal measure, as I’ll get to in a minute.
We start off hearing her voice over black, as she sees the world. Then we are introduced to some beautifully textured, outstanding camerawork as she describes a park forest, a stray cucumber, a dog and then we realise we are seeing the way she is visualising the world. We then have the opening titles and it’s accompanied by a quite minimal, piano led, musical score by Henk Hofstede which reminded me, somewhat, of the music of Wim Mertens... specifically some of his piano music used in Peter Greenaway’s Belly Of An Architect. I say minimal not just because of the musical similarities to Mertens in this piece but because there is hardly any music throughout the movie and, in the odd scenes where it is brought in for dramatic impact, it’s usually a variant of this piece.
We are then introduced to a second character called Einar, played by Marius Kolbenstvedt, who is obsessed with pornography. However, this guy's back story, in which we are shown lots of pornography of a specific nature which I would have thought would not have been allowed on a British Blu Ray by our somewhat cranky BBFC (being polite about them), is also narrated by Ingrid. She’s somehow describing his life like she described her own and shows his character watching her through her window from his flat opposite and mimicking her movements as he becomes obsessed by her... or is it her?
It took me a while to realise that there was a second blind character called Elin, played by Vera Vitali, because they are not always shown in close up and the hair colour and facial structure are near to each other... and for good reason, without me going into spoilers. Was I watching a flashback or was it something else?
I first noticed something was going slightly awry when we’re introduced to the main character’s young son and then, a shot or two later, it’s her young daughter. Then, as the film progresses, the director starts interpenetrating storylines which you thought were current or coexisting realities, by stealth. Now there’s a reason for this but I won’t reveal certain things about the actions of one of the characters here... but this is, on the whole, a valid and, certainly interesting, way of exploring the characters and situations in this film. The brilliant part, which really threw me until I stopped letting the two shorthand styles distract me, is that it’s happening at the same time that he’s also using visual representations of the difference between what the lead blind character is seeing in her head and the reality of her situation. So something might happen and then the director will just hit reset because it happened in a character’s head.
For example, in an early scene she wonders if the ceilings in her apartment are actually as big as her husband, Morten (played by Henrik Rafaelsen), has told her they are. Later on, we see a shot of her stretching her hands to the ceiling and, in the close up of her arm and hand, we see her fingers reaching just below the ceiling. When we cut to the long shot, however, we can see that her hand is actually many feet away from the ceiling and it’s this kind of brilliant stuff that the director does that keeps the film interesting... that is, asides from the absolutely amazing acting on show from all the people who populate the main cast of this movie. Especially Peterson and Vitali who make amazing blind people.
And, like I said, the worlds within the sometimes puzzling but ultimately justified narrative structure also add another layer to the film. There’s a scene, for instance, where Einar and Morten are having coffee in a cafe. As we see a shot of Einar, we realise a bus is moving in the background of the window. We then cut to a shot of the other man and the whole background in the window is moving. We cut back and see more buses and then cut tot he other guy again and the background outside is static. As Morten goes to put his coffee down on the table he suddenly realises the table is no longer there because part of their conversation is taking place in a moving train carriage and part of it isn’t and it’s all mixed up in their heads... enough so that it sometimes even takes the characters by surprise, it would seem.
And this kind of stuff is, for the most part, so subtly done that it all blends into a single, challenging but definitely decipherable narrative which holds your interest. It even gets to the point, and I’m trying not to give too much away here, where even one of the character’s lines is discarded halfway through her sentence and then replaced with another. As the light begins to dawn on you about halfway through the movie what you are watching, so the interpenetrations and bleed-throughs between different narrative spaces become more frequent. And even with ‘guest music’ appearance of Sonic Youth’s Kool Thing, which I last heard in Hal Hartley’s movie Simple Men, it wasn’t enough of a distraction that I was so engrossed by the narrative habitat created by the writer/director that I barely had time to register it and tap my feet.
As you can probably guess, I had an absolute blast with Blind and it turned out to be one of my friend’s best purchase recommendations. In fact, I am now going to have to lend it to him so he can see what he recommended. As far as I’m concerned, if you are into the art of cinema then you probably can’t help but love this movie so, if you haven’t seen it already, you should maybe rush out and grab a copy soonest. Blind is certainly a film with, ironically, a lot more vision than a lot of movies churned out these days.