Saturday, July 24, 2010

MIFF 2010 Review: Dreamland

Dir. Ivan Sen
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: TBC
Running Time: 86mins

Ivan Sen burst out of the filmmaking gates eight years ago with Beneath Clouds, a beautiful film that preceded Samson & Delilah with its tale of two quiet Aboriginal teens on the run from the law and themselves. His second film has come 8 years later and it shares many things with Beneath Clouds while also sharing nothing at all. Dreamland is filmed in raw black and white and is, perhaps, trying to say something about our place on this Earth and in this universe. Dreamland is a film that I sat and watched and gradually surrendered to. It captivated me and by the time it ended I felt I had encountered something akin to a transcendental experience. It's truly special and I feel blessed for having witnessed it.

Sen has spent the last eight years mostly making Australian television documentaries, most notably Yellow Fella in 2005, but I can't help but feel something happened to him on a personal level between then and now. Dreamland was, for me, concerned with issues of life and death, Earth and space - who we are, why we are and where we come from. By film's end has "Dan", the film's only major character, discovered the birthplace of life as we know it? Has he discovered the secret to life on other planets? I'm not sure, they are mere theories, but as human being are we not prone to seek out mysteries? The mysteries of alien life, the mysteries of Dreamland. Are they, perhaps, one and the same? Is Sen's film an essay of sorts on what it means to feel alien to ourselves and to others? Are we the aliens? Take the baton and the run with it, folks, I imagine the possibilities of this film are infinite.

Dreamland stars Daniel Roberts as Dan, a man to spends the entirety of the film's 86 minutes travelling through the Nevada desert, home to Area 51. He visits various locations that have history in terms of abductions and UFO sightings. He drives around these areas and hikes up mountains; he performs star jumps, guzzles water and urinates on the side of the road. He occasionally comes across other people, but we never learn anything about them. They could be as lost as he, seeking their own private redemption. Dan never speaks. He does meet, albeit briefly, April, his soon-to-be ex wife who is played by Tasma Walton. Is it really her? Is she an illusion or an oasis? She doesn't seem real, materialising right in front of us and seemingly speaking in riddles. "Have you found that thing that you’re looking for?” Dan doesn't respond. Is he looking for aliens, for himself, for her, for God or for something completely foreign to us?

The film has next to no dialogue whatsoever apart from the sounds of a frequency radio and the brief scenes with Walton. Sequences seem to have no rhyme or reason to them other than to provoke some sort of internal reaction. There are moments of horror, like the scene where Dan hears something cry out in the Nevada desert. Interspersed throughout are scenes of space footage that may or may not be real. Is it Dan? The movie is a soundscape of ideas and the speakers are constantly blaring out a mixture of bleeps, boops, static, alien voices and synthesised score. There are on screen quotes by Giordano Bruno, a famed astronomer who was burnt at the stake in 1600 and a speech by former President of the USA Harry Truman.

There is a pureness to Dreamland that made me want to weep. I could be reductive and call this a cross between David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE and Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock, and if that makes you feel better than by all means go with it. It is as apt a description as I could come up with, but there are also aspects of Rolf de Heer's Epsilon, Lawrence Johnston's Night and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dreamland, however, is not a film that can be judged based on traditional crafts such as acting, writing, directing, editing and photography. Much like INLAND EMPIRE, but even more dramatically, Dreamland is probably more concerned with being an art project that just happens to be exhibited in cinemas rather than being classified as actual film. Sen directed, wrote, photographed, edited, composed and designed the sound while it was filmed on location. The black and white photography, filled with camera tricks and visual distortions, lends the region a definitely otherworldly atmosphere.

I’ve never been one of those people who feel gradings are beneath them, or who only assign films a mark due to some sort of cinephile peer pressure. With Dreamland, however, I have decided to refuse a score for the simple fact that no amount of fives, sevens, nines or tens out of ten, nor any A+, C- and F grades can truly express the feeling I hold deep within my soul for this movie. This film touched my heart in ways that goes beyond mere letter grades and touched a pure point within that only I can tap into and reference. No matter what I say, think or feel I can guarantee that you will feel different about it so to quantify it with a grade would be dishonest to myself and to you dear readers. It touched the very essence of my being in a way I may not ever understand and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Dreamland has one more MIFF screening on Wednesday 28 July. If you can attend, please do. I am sure there are many out there who will hate this movie - the man sitting next to me yesterday was not impressed and spent the second half with his head in his lap - but I feel this film is so important and yet probably won't even get distribution here. Why spend money of Scott Pilgrim or The Kids Are All Right at MIFF when there is something like Dreamland waiting to be discovered?

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