Tuesday 15 September 2020

In the fog: "The Lighthouse"

Not to be confused with the recent Willem Dafoe/R-Pattz curio, the earlier The Lighthouse - a 2006 drama by the late Armenian director Maria Saakyan, revived this week on MUBI UK - displays a bold pictorial sense, but also suffers from the opacity seen in so much Soviet and post-Soviet cinema: a lot of activity without anchoring narrative sense, a tendency to reduce its characters to figures in a landscape, a thick mist literally obscuring proceedings. Peer into it, and one can just about make out some sort of homecoming: that of Lena (Anna Kapaleva), a young woman who returns home after a civil war to find her family and friends torn between rebuilding and walking away. What follows is ambiguous, verging on the unfathomable. The conflict is represented by one recurring helicopter making the same buzzing movement overhead, which is partly effective as a source of tension, but also clearly the result of budgetary restrictions, and the repetition extends to multiple shots of characters washing their faces. Certainly it flows, and its chaos - its insistent scrambling of past and present, documentary and fiction, pristine and grainy film stocks - may be exactly that of life during wartime; its textures stay with you, but I'll be damned if I didn't watch it wearing the most quizzical expression. Its final image is of (staged? actual?) all-male formation dancing. Your guess will be as good as mine.

The Lighthouse will be available to stream via MUBI UK from Thursday.

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