Tuesday 29 September 2020

The edge of the world: "End of Summer"

Distributors continue to pay their respects to Jóhann Jóhannsson, the Icelandic composer and filmmaker who took his own life in 2018, aged 48. Hot on the heels of the BFI's July release of 2017's Last and First Men, MUBI UK are reviving End of Summer, a half-hour short from 2014 composed of grainy, sometimes outright distressed black-and-white Super 8 footage Jóhannsson took during a voyage to the island of South Georgia, off the Antarctic peninsula. Take out the (Foleyed in?) honks of penguins and seals, and you could convince yourself you were watching some long lost silent movie - a return to the territory of Frank Hurley's South, that now century-old document of the Ernest Shackleton expedition. Yet the short's focus isn't man asserting himself on the landscape (it's an entirely humanless film), rather nature reasserting itself. Jóhannsson came this way as a wildlife buff, to observe those penguins massing in their hundreds on craggy black shorelines, as if attending some annual conference the film intends to let us in on. (Keynote speaker: Pingu.) That sight would lend End of Summer a certain monochrome poetry even if it had been shot in full colour: the penguins resemble the figurants in Joy Division's "Atmosphere" video, slowly processing upright across static frames to the accompaniment of Jóhannsson's spare, mournful score. The results are chilly - encountered in late September, it's a film to make you glad you put the heating back on - but also proof that Jóhannsson was shaping up as a poet of remoteness and solitude before his tragic demise. Headed towards what now looks a loaded sundown, End of Summer offers a vision of what might happen on this planet after we humans have departed the scene - which, given the rate at which the polar icecaps are melting, may just be sooner than we think.

End of Summer will be available to stream via MUBI UK from tomorrow.

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