Thursday, September 23, 2010

NYFF ’10: Robinson in Ruins

It is sort of a socialist Blair Witch Project, but without any tension. Purportedly the found footage filmed by a prescient early Twenty-First Century sociological researcher, stitched together by an academic sometime in a Bellamy-esque post-capitalist future, Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins is more closely akin to non-narrative experimental filmmaking than speculative fiction. Unfortunately, even those inclined to agree with its philosophy are likely to find it a slow-go when it screens during the 2010 New York Film Festival.

Had Keiller wished to film a European country in a state of economic collapse, he could have taken his cameras to Greece. Of course, the lessons of their bloated government sector would not necessarily fit with Ruins’ world view. Instead, we hear Vanessa Redgrave’s silky narration make tenuous connections between the abandoned fuel depots and lonely mile markers Robinson ostensibly shot and the promised economic collapse, supposedly prefigured by the global recession we now find ourselves in. Indeed, when watching Ruins, one gets the sense the British economy of 2009 solely revolved around delivering fuel to American military bases.

Keiller is a lovely nature photographer, capturing some very pleasant images of bees pollinating flowers. However, his cocktail of actual and fictionalized economic history lacks punch, despite its didacticism. Consequently, the film is largely dependent on its static images, leading to long periods of drift, as when the filmmakers (real and imagined) fixate on lichen growing on country motorway signs.

“Experimental film” is always a tough sell, particularly those that mix in extreme politics for good measure. However, smart and nuanced “cinematic essays” that also provide viewers hooks to hold onto, like Amie Siegel’s DDR/DDR, demonstrate the perniciousness of such labels. In contrast, Ruins really is a film for devotees of the avant-garde, pretty much exclusively. It will probably find an appreciative audience at the Anthology sometime in the future and is sure to play numerous college campuses. It screens this Sunday (9/26) at Alice Tully Hall as part of the NYFF.