Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tribeca ’10: Buried Land

It might be bad archaeology, but it is good for tourism. Evidently, the established scientific community is mostly skeptical of the notion an ancient civilization built three perfect pyramids in mountains surrounding the Bosnian town of Visoko, but you would not know it from the intentionally slippery exercise in cinematic gamesmanship that recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Incorporating elements of fictionalized documentary, mockumentary, and performance art, Geoffrey Alan Rhodes and Steven Eastwood’s Buried Land should most definitely not be taken at face value during its Tribeca run.

They are generally pyramid shaped and there does seem to be a fair amount of hollow space within the Bosnian landmarks, but concluding they must be man-made is probably something of a leap. Of course, the local residents are happy to take it for several reasons. Beyond the increased tourist trade, many are simply pleased their country is associated with something positive, after enduring years of suffering. However, they are justifiably concerned an international film crew will give them the “Borat” treatment in their prospective pyramid documentary.

Buried deliberately blurs distinctions between reality and hyper-reality. The two leads are in indeed “ficitional” characters, Emir a Bosnian Emir making his first returning visit to his homeland, and Adam, the American film director, fittingly played by co-director Rhodes. While most of the Visoko villagers “play” themselves, they are often put in surreal situations. Yet, Rhodes and Eastwood seem aware of the troublingly condescending aspects of their program, letting one Visoko deliver a monster of verbal beat-down on Emir to that effect.

In truth, Buried is willfully maddening. At times, it does mock the locals, but it also seems to buy into their vision of ancient Bosnian glory. It could well be an ironic statement on either provincial gullibility or media cynicism (or perhaps both). Regardless of the filmmakers’ intentions, the people Visoko actually come out of the film with their dignity intact. In fact, Visoko looks like a fantastic place to visit. Whether they are pyramids or hills, the scenery is gorgeous. There also seem to be a number of attractive women and some good sevdah brass bands in town.

Neither fish nor documentary, Buried is an odd little film whose bizarre tone defies easy description. It might introduce some viewers the controversy surrounding the Bosnian pyramids, but it is hardly intended as conventional reportage. At times interesting, Buried is for those who appreciate cleverness more than emotional engagement in their films. It screens again during the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival Tuesday (4/27), and Saturday (5/1).