Chris and I were chatting.
He said I make him think of Europe. I asked in what way. He said my style of dress reminded him of Godard’s films. I quickly Googled Godard and found a two-minute clip of his cinematography on Youtube. The clip was titled Une Femme Mariee, and all moving organisms in there were effortless while beautiful. Chris became my favorite person right there and then, of course, and we carried on to talk more.
He said he loves art house films. I embarrassedly admitted that I watch fewer art house indie films than I’d like. I suggested he make some recommendations. He came back with a documentary film currently showing at the Music Box Theatre in Lakeview Chicago. The venue itself was already a destination in the city, so I said we must together go. He agreed. We met on a sunny Saturday afternoon, at five minutes past two, in the lounge of Music Box, Lakeview.
The film was scheduled to commence at two. We hurried into the auditorium. Lights were dimmed, and room was almost full. We sat down beside each other in the right-hand section. We were close to the aisle, and near the back of the room. Two more trailers were played, then it was Kirsten’s show.
A note from Kirsten, white letters on black canvas, made up the first scene. She explained this documentary to be a montage of shootings she had done for other projects. She introduced this collage as a memoir of her own. The note was signed with Love, and the black canvas gave way to a white house surrounded by greens, shot from a moving vehicle. This view held for less than fifteen seconds, when the lens shifted to a group of animals, pigs of some sorts. They were herded by an elderly man, wearing navy from head to toe. The view gradually zoomed out, but the pigs and the man remained in sight. This frame stayed for another minute, until it was replaced by opening title.
I thought, okay, disjointed, avant-garde, sensual.
Then came more.
A boxer, agitated before a finals match. He makes small talks. He stretches out on the mat. His eyes evade the lens. But from time to time, he smiles at it, in anticipation of a great and terrifying night.
A district attorney, stands amidst cartons of forensic evidence. It is a murder case. The victim, a young man, was dragged to death by metal chains tied to a pick-up-truck. His flesh wore away, as he tried to resist. It was no match for the rugged ground.
Two twins, Kirsten’s twins, play at home in diapers. They don’t yet understand the lens, the camera, or the action. They stare into it, with an expression of puzzlement and curiosity, into the tiny black hole.
A woman, sits in an arm chair. She wears distressed blue jeans. Her face not shown to us. She is in an abortion clinic. She is a single-mother. She already has a nineteen-month old son. She thinks she is a “bad female” for letting this happen a second time. She cries. Her hands, rested on the jeans, tangle, untangle, and tangle.
A Syrian film professional, lectures to a class. He says we must treat the dead with dignity, especially with our camera. He is asked of his opinion on the refugee boy who washed up on the shore. He says, we must treat the dead with respect.
An Afghanistan or Nigerian boy, talks to the camera beside a window. His left eye is damaged; it can only sense vague light and shadow. His right eye is bright, normal.
A family of six, spanning three generations, lives in Bosnian mountains. They’ve become an ethnic minority, because others in their ethnic group have been cleansed – wiped out. They share with the crew local delicacy. The grandmother has difficulty talking about the ethnic war.
A mother, appears befuddled in her own home. She looks at the fireplace in the middle of the room. She insists its existence is new. She is not angry. She is only confused. She speaks softly in doubt. She has Alzheimer’s disease, the cruelest of the cruel.
A Nigerian midwife nurse, washes her hands off of blood at the sink. She’s just delivered another newborn.
Then the boxer returns. He loses the match. He has a tantrum.
The twins return. They bury a dead bird, with their grandfather, near the ashes of their grandmother.
The boy returns. He describes witnessing the death of his brother. He describes finding his corpse headless, under a bike. Kirsten whispers, “you were making me cry even though I don’t understand your language”. She made tears stream down my cheek. I understood her language.
The family of six returns. Kirsten re-visits them in the mountains. She shows them what she filmed of them the time before. They smile and laugh. Kirsten makes a deal with them, that she should one day return with her children.
The mother returns. She is Kirsten’s mother. She is tall and slender, like her daughter. Her hair is gray; her face gives off a healthy glow. She is, like her twin grandchildren, oblivious to this act of filming. Kirsten tells her that she is being filmed. She repeats the sentence in slightly confused awe. The two of them look at some framed photographs lying on the counter. Mother picks up one. Kirsten asks, do you know him. Mother replies, yes, I am married to him. Mother asks, oh you know him too. Kirsten laughs, yes, for my entire life. Mother in a slightly confused state of awe again, but keeps on looking at the photographs. The camera backs out of the bathroom, lingers around the door, with mother’s back to us, quietly facing photos on a wall. I cried, like there was no tomorrow.
The midwife returns. The camera captures her feet first, standing in a puddle of blood. A delivering mother moans faintly on bed. The midwife is pulling a baby by his feet. She is trying to pull the baby, out of the mother’s womb. The mother moans faintly, with no strength left to push. Midwife gets the baby out. A boy, who cannot yet breath. She carries him over to another room down the corridor. She gets him to breath, but he is in dire need of oxygen. What next, the crew asks. He needs oxygen, midwife replies. We don’t have oxygen, she adds.
And there were more.
Silence, emptiness, ruin. Humor, fullness, levity. All interspersed among what I’ve described, and among more which I cannot put into words.
Kirsten is the most un-ambitious storyteller one may encounter on the big screen. She does not impose themes or mantras. She does not promise silver linings. She presents, as they are.
Kirsten is yet perhaps the most ambitious storyteller. She provides a canvas, onto which we, each individual viewer, project our rationality and irrationality, personality and sentimentality. She does not wish to convince us of any one thing. She invites us to discover a cohort of things, about our own humanity.
Chris and I walked out of the theatre, into the afternoon sun. Somewhere in our conversation, we digressed to the art of literature. We agreed, that the beauty of literature lies in it drawing what is extraordinary out of what is ordinary. Sensitivity of the mind, is any good writer’s innate talent.
Kirsten, the person behind the camera, is in fact scarily talented, in that way too.
Featured Image credit: https://trailers.apple.com/trailers/independent/cameraperson/