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Jon Jost


January 30, 2007

La Lunga Ombra, 2006

lungaombra.gifOn the surface, Jon Jost's austere, somber, and uncompromisingly caustic improvisational rumination on the pall cast by the aftermath of 9/11 on the European consciousness, La Lunga Ombra seems an uncharacteristic departure from the intractable consciousness of middle America that pervade his early films - a post tragedy portrait that converges more towards claustrophobic, Bergmanesque angst rather than the transformative, post-apocalyptic, loss of innocence grief that its conceptual framework would seem to suggest. Loosely structured around the lives and mundane gestures of a trio of close knit friends - a literary figure (Eliana Miglio) (whose agency appears to be in the process of publishing a photo-essay journal on the faces of colonial-era terrorism) and a television producer (Simonetta Gianfelici) who retreat to a remote, off-season seaside cabin in order to tend to a mutual friend, Anna's (Agnese Nano) emotional crisis and ensuing depression after being unexpectedly abandoned by her cruel (and perhaps abusive) husband - the film is also a provocative, broader exposition on the intangible, often corrosive collateral damage of psychological warfare and demoralization.

Intercutting the quotidian rituals of women in the stasis of their isolation (as they alternately attempt to console Anna by lending a sympathetic ear as she struggles to articulate her sense of loss, distracting her thoughts with idle conversation and whimsical parlor games, and encouraging her to reclaim her identity by returning to youthful pursuits) with textural and increasingly abstract archival footage from acts of terrorism, Jost reinforces an atmosphere of disjunction between characters and context that, in retrospect, perhaps reveals the underlying separation between action and consequence that pervades the film. A videotaped interview with a businessman recounting his experience while working in postwar Afghanistan alludes to this bifurcation when he describes his observation of the absence of everyday interaction between men and women in contemporary, post-Taliban Afghan society, a culturally enabled separation that leads to a certain level displaced intimacy not usually found in patriarchal cultures.

Conversely, the friends' hermetic retreat also becomes a form of artificial segregation - this time, from the community of men - where their interaction is relegated to the margins (represented only as distant photographs hanging from walls or leafed through in books (uncoincidentally, as symbols of warfare or violence), or existing in the periphery as fire wood vendors, technicians, or photographers). However, inasmuch as instinctual regression serves as a defense mechanism against inflicted wounds, it also exposes the myopia of victimization. In a sense, this defensive retreat towards isolation - and in particular, a self-imposed isolation in order to reinforce a sense of solidarity and foster moral support - not only illustrates the core of human nature's response to trauma, but also introduces the idea of the women's private turmoil as a microcosm of post 9/11 consciousness where grief, loss, fear, and confusion have invariably given way, not only to isolationism, self-righteousness, and intransigence, but more importantly, to a self-perpetuating moral contamination and spiritual inertia that continues to fester long after the crisis has subsided. Moreover, by incorporating granular and pixellated images from the World Trade Center attack that appear increasingly impressionistic and decontextualized (paradoxically creating an inverse proportionality between the distance to the image and its resolution), the juxtaposition becomes a potent metaphor for the abstraction inherent in the psychology of terrorism, where effectiveness is measured, not in conveying graphic realism or maximized casualty, but in the manipulation of public sentiment through the global domination of media images. It is this quest for sensationalism and media occupation that is ultimately encapsulated by the controversial inclusion of a gruesome and desensitizing ritual execution footage taken in postwar Iraq that concludes the film - a grim and sobering reminder of society's own implication in the creation of the spectacle, in the systematic corruption of its own soul.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 30, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Jon Jost


January 22, 2006

Bell Diamond, 1986

bell_diamond.gif Few filmmakers capture the complex landscape of rural America in all its strong-willed self-determination, insularity, and dispiriting sameness as pointedly and eloquently as Jon Jost. It is this conjured frontier image of all-or-nothing prospects and fickle fate that engenders wealth just as easily as it nurtures poverty that Jost alludes to in the implicit irony of the film's title Bell Diamond, the name of an abandoned mill that would render many of the townspeople unemployed and eking out an existence as part-time day laborers facing an uncertain future within the limited opportunities of a depressed local economy. Far from a financial security seemingly within reach as reward for dedication to duty and honest, hard work and rugged individualism, what instead remains of Bell Diamond is a vast graveyard of idled machinery, gutted infrastructure, and broken dreams. Once a thriving industrial plant in a bucolic, working class community, the abandoned mill symbolizes the unrealized potential and failed hopes of a generation of drafted soldiers returning from combat in Vietnam to rebuild some semblance of a normal life - a lost generation embodied by the silent, introverted everyman, Jeff Dolan (Marshall Gaddis), an unemployed mill worker who spends his idle hours absorbed in the abstraction of a perpetually switched on television. But beyond the demoralizing inertia of chronic unemployment, Jeff's troubled domestic life also betrays the elusiveness of a fairytale homecoming after experiencing the devastation of war, as his wife Cathy (Sarah Wyss), already frustrated by their inability to conceive a child (a residual side effect of his military exposure to Agent Orange) confronts his predictable habituality, inertia, and emotional isolation and announces that she has decided to leave him. Aimless and alone, Jeff returns to Bell Diamond in a haze of despair to face the limbo of anonymous, empty industrial towers that have defined his self-enclosed identity. Jost's combination of elegant, signature landscape shots with the dedramatized improvisation of non-professional actors eschews the introduction of overt emotional manipulation to create a poignant and understated work. Evoking the raw emotionality of a John Cassavetes internalized encounter where domestic ritual serves as a surrogate for unarticulated affection, the silent encounters in the film are similarly muted yet charged with the passion of symbiotic intimacy (most notably, in the sequence of a resigned Jeff helping Cathy carry her belongings into a truck after a truncated argument). It is this undercurrent of undying love and devoted intimacy that inevitably reinforces the hope, compassion, and humanity that lies within the seemingly bleak and irredeemable tale of economic (and spiritual) recession, a redefined, contemporary fairytale forged from tempered dreams, acceptance of fate, and humble desire.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 22, 2006 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2006, Jon Jost