Distant Constellation (2017, Shevaun Mizrahi)

Our first movie at the 2017 True/False Film Fest, which was an overwhelmingly great long weekend. We were among the last three people let in via the Q for this one, sat in scattered chairs and loveseats lined up in a comfy space behind a coffee shop.

Slow and dreamy visit with the residents of a Turkish retirement home, sheltered indoors while a major construction project goes up across the street (Mizrahi goes out and joins the construction workers in the final minutes of the film). Looping atmospheric sounds instead of music, patterns changing with each scene. Focused on the people, their behavior and stories, with a few great visual moments (I’m thinking of the lineup of 4-5 women sitting down watching one who gets up to leave, the same scenario repeated later in the film). Presented as a test screening, so it might be released in a different form later, though I can’t imagine it’ll get much of a commercial release in the States. Judging from the reaction to one glorious long take, it’ll have to remain in the film – two guys stand in the elevator having long conversations, pressing the buttons to go up and down repeatedly, then to their annoyance a woman in a wheelchair is rolled in, and after a long minute she looks up and grins into the camera. It’s hard to explain in words why this was so wonderful.

Memorable characters: A photographer with serious vision trouble fumbles with his camera gear speaking in helpless loops. A man with breathing problems talks in his sleep (“Merry Christmas”). A woman over 100 years old survived the Armenian genocide and is still suspicious of authority and afraid of persecution, asks to use a pseudonym on camera. And one man we revisit a few times, realizing at the end that he had a strategy all along. He reminisces about reading Lolita. He reads us one of his own erotic stories, and mentions that he prefers intimacy with a couple (no more than three!) more than the sex parties he’s attended. He boasts about the time he gave a 31 year-old woman an orgasm though he was much older at the time. Finally he proposes to the (30 year-old) director. I believe she turned him down, though we left before the Q&A, successfully sneaking into another movie.

J. Cronk:

This pairing of industrial upheaval with the burden of socio-historic tribulation can’t help but recall the docufiction experiments of China’s greatest living filmmaker, Jia Zhangke (particularly Still Life and 24 City), while Mizrahi’s formal acumen and rigorous compositional sense nod to the self-professed influence of Portugal’s Pedro Costa, whose Fontainhas trilogy similarly exposed and personified the souls of a neglected community on the brink of extinction.

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