Experimental Reviews

Próxima Paragem [Next Stop] (2019) – 3 stars

Director: Florence Weyne Robert

Writers: Florence Weyne Robert

Running time: 7 mins

For more information on Florence Weyne Robert’s work, visit IMDb.

In the ‘smart’ era, even if we ignore our mobile phones, moving billboards flank us on every leg of our commute, and the vulgar ‘interconnectivity’ of late capitalism can mean our refrigerator can try to hawk us a 30 second ad while we reach for the milk. Every moment of our waking lives, our conscious and subconscious is assaulted by bombastic moving imagery; nagging, hectoring us to spend big and live fast.

In this post-modern hellscape, it can be hard for the artist to resist the urge to try and compete by throwing everything and the kitchen sink into their work. After all, we are told this environment has conditioned us all as ‘consumers’ to have sub-goldfish attention spans, so if content we engage with doesn’t bombard us with a million quick-moving images, we tune out fast, right? Wrong.

In fact, I would argue, this hideous headache of Marvel-esque overcrowding – where if there aren’t at least 20 spandex-clad heroes bearing down on the camera at any one second, the audience is somewhat insultingly assumed to be bored – presents a golden opportunity for filmmakers adopting a slower approach to flourish. Indeed, at its high points, experimental short film Próxima Paragem (or Next Stop) is a sumptuous example of this.

Florence Weyne Robert’s directorial debut is an at-times-breath-taking collection of still images, exploring a tiny neighbourhood at the heart of Lisbon, cloaked in a thick fog that seems at first to have caused it to be overlooked by modern life. Lone figures trudge down distant streets in the dim light, graffiti-clad trains drift silently through leafy suburbs, and impenetrable mist shrouds dormant construction machinery.

The beauty of films like Next Stop is that they allow us to catch our breath; they let oxygen return to our brains – formerly suffocated by the abundance of visual noise in our everyday lives – and for a magical moment, they can make time stand still. There is an immense power in that serenity, and Writer-Director Robert captures that, albeit fleetingly.

The surprising thing is that in her bio, Robert bills herself as usually works as a Script Supervisor, with some experience of being a First Assistant Director. For someone whose grounding is largely in words, she clearly has a keen eye for image composition, which will undoubtedly provide more of these moments in future films. The problem for now, though, is that she remains all too eager to verbally explain the images on display.

Next Stop would be capable of delivering its message if it were just a collection of still life images. The imagery already tells the story of a hidden community – and its dying way of life – finally being caught by the steady march of modernisation and gentrification. That is aptly reflected by the near-empty streets, ominously shadowed by the concrete skeletons of new luxury developments, sinisterly emerging from the dense fog below.

The choice to write and voice a narration subsequently lands as a blunt and clumsy attempt to clarify the film’s intent and structure. While it is not impossible to fit a narration into this kind of film, it is also a rather heavy handed one, which overly-explains what the audience should already be able to figure out. This comes at the risk of alienating viewers, who could feel slightly patronised by such an approach.

This is not helped by the fact a living voice is chiming in over the top of still images – serving to make them feel almost dead. On top of this, the murmuring ambience of everyday life soundtracks Robert’s film – and while it is competently edited and recorded, while not being out of place given the imagery, it does draw the audience’s attention more heavily to the fact the stunning photos are literally inanimate.

This is something that more experienced filmmakers have combatted successfully by adopting a ‘moving still-life’ approach. In films like Giovanni Rossi’s Cigno or Daniele Maggioni’s Local Winds, this sees a beautiful shot singled out for lengthy, unmoving recording. It still evokes the feeling and imagery that traditional photography can provide, while still delivering the feeling of viewing a living, breathing world, by capturing small movements within a large environment and complementing them with organic sound.

Without taking this approach, flat, stationary images accompanied by the three-dimensional sounds of real life create a tonal dissonance that is impossible to move past. At its worst moments, this means Next Stop comes across as an museum installation, where wax-work dummies pose lifelessly to illustrate yesterday’s world, as a chorus of voices supposedly illustrating how lively things were does the exact opposite.

As a result, Next Stop provides a poetic yet frustrating portrait of life in a forgotten world. It is at times an aesthetically gorgeous escape from a hectic and sterile world of hyper-animated imagery; while also offering a worthy comment on how that escape route is being eroded by the forces of modern life’s consumption-driven market. On the other hand, it demonstrates a lack of discipline on the part of its creators, when it comes to delivering components for a film which complement – rather than contradict – each other.

Above all, Next Stop should be viewed as a promising beginning. It highlights a filmmaker with immense artistic potential, if she can take the positives from this project and move forward. If she does, then I can’t wait to see where her next stop takes us.

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