Sunday, March 10, 2019

SXSW with Abe: One Man Dies a Million Times

I’m excited to be attending the film festival at South by Southwest for the second time, and I’ll be posting reviews throughout the week as I see as many movies as possible!

One Man Dies a Million Times
Directed by Jessica Oreck

There are many ways to pay tribute to history. Representing people who lived and died on screen helps to transmit the message and meaning of their lives to a new generation, able to experience them in a way they never have before. A straight documentary provides archive footage and interviews which allow the people involved to speak for themselves, while a dramatization tells their story in a new way that might appeal to a more widespread audience. Combining the two isn’t nearly as common, and bringing them together in an experimental format can create a disorienting, haunting product.

Described as a “true story, set in the future,” this film focuses on botanists who worked to maintain seed banks during the siege of Leningrad between 1941 and 1944. Filmed in St. Petersburg in black-and-white, the events are on screen, which are set instead in the near future, are interrupted frequently by narration taken directly from the writings of those who were indeed there and lived through the siege, continuing their crucial work despite worsening conditions around them and the all-but-assured certainty of death as the only end.

This is a difficult film to describe, though the most accurate word to use would probably be bleak. There isn’t much opportunity for hope throughout its ninety-minute run, and the knowledge that what those portrayed are doing something that may live on for generations is tempered by the doomed fate that they await and the disparaging spirit present in every person seen. The notion of setting this film in a possible, not-so-distant future is intriguing, but it’s not clear that doing so helps to make this story any more poignant than it might have been as a more loyal narrative to the history.

As if often does, especially in films that are not in English, the use of black-and-white cinematography rather than color adds a considerable starkness, deepening the anguish felt by those whose lives very much are no longer happening in color. Shooting in the place where the events referenced happened also adds weight to the story and its overall effect. As a piece of experimental cinema, this film probes interesting questions about how to broadcast a little-publicized piece of the past in a creative manner that might prompt audiences to view it in a different context. It’s by no means riveting, but that’s not the focus in this forward-thinking journey back to a forgotten past.


No comments: