Director: Avibrata Chanda
Writers: Avibrata Chanda
Cast: Avibrata Chanda, Bhanupriya Singh
Running time: 7mins
Critiquing independent film in 2020 often lands you in a difficult position. On the one hand, the world is at a tipping point, where any one of a number of crises could be about to end life as we know it, and only filmmakers outside of the studio system seem to have the freedom to call for the systemic change needed to prevent that Armageddon. On the other hand, many of these artists are inescapably green, not in the ecological sense, but in the way that they have no training or experience in their chosen medium, and subsequently butcher whatever valuable message they sought to promote.
I have spent a great many hours of my life umming and ahing as to whether I’m being ‘too harsh’ on such work – “after all, it’s something worth saying, even if it’s said poorly.” It is one of my least favourite aspects of Indy Film Library, so I’m happy to report that Air 2040 has provided me with no such conundrum. That is the only way in which Writer/Director/Star Avibrata Chanda’s film has made me happy, however.
Cynically evoking Blade Runner 2049, Air 2040 is apparently set in the apocalyptic wastelands of the not-so-distant future. We begin the film with our narrator informing us, “There’s not much left in this world.” In one sense this is true, as the film itself is pretty much an empty shell, but in another more immediate sense it is patently false. While our protagonist continues to spell out how desolate the world is, hundreds of cars drive through the leafy roads of a thriving suburb – showing not only the lack of discipline to have got up at sun rise to film an empty street, but an utter contempt for the perceptive powers of the audience.
Skipping to the film’s conclusion, this tone-deaf lack of self-awareness that lends Chanda’s parting statement almost a comic quality. “This is a work of fiction, but is it that far from reality?” he asks, and of course the answer is no: it is not far from reality, because he has never endeavoured to show us anything remotely out of the ordinary.
Illustrating this further, beyond the exterior images of flowing traffic amid the ‘chaos’ of a world which still clearly has trees, water, and air, the film consists of two shots; one of a bed-ridden Chanda breathing heavily into a construction mask, the other of his wife (the back of Bhanupriya Singh’s head). Neither individual’s mouth is exposed, something which Chanda’s script excuses with the suggestion there is no breathable air left, but is clearly a convenience to save him having to learn his own script. As a result, every line of dialogue has been added via ADR, with both actors blatantly reading direct from the page.
If this sounds like a facile, shoddily executed trudge, that’s because Air 2040 is a facile, shoddily executed trudge. But what makes it that much worse is that while its creators have failed to undertake basic, common-sense measures to gather visual material which would at least help it tell a consistent visual story, they have grafted a shallow message of individual responsibility onto its end, in a vain bid to make its slothful story seem less vacuous.
The film purports that the world is dying, and nobody cares – while if only we all took more responsibility, saved water and energy in our own homes, we’d be alright. It’s an idea which is utterly delusional on the back of several years of growing mass action from grassroots campaigners looking to force governments and businesses to change their course – while those elites continue to promote an economic model that thrives on production, and on waste.
This individualistic approach to climate action ultimately paralyses people, focusing them on peeing in the shower to save on water use while industry’s mass abuse of natural resources means that our efforts essentially amount to pissing into the wind. That’s something even the likes of the Neil Breens of this world understand; for all the problematic/borderline fascistic elements of efforts like Pass Thru, there is sincerity in his films, born of at least a primitive understanding that some sort of meteoric change is necessary to avert disaster.
The thing is, even arguing for such a large-scale change takes time and effort. On the other hand, individual action is the easiest form of action to advocate; it costs corporations and states nothing, and can even be monetised, to the extent it can fool us into thinking we can keep consuming as a means to helping the world! In spite of its shortcomings, “being mindful” of our own actions is therefore by far the most common argument for stopping climate change – as lazy producers of all manner of items and artefacts can leverage to help the otherwise profane good they are hawking seem profound.
That’s clearly what’s happened here. Air 2040 is a film which utterly lacks anything worth saying – instead championing the lowest common denominator of social commentary to distract from its vapid nature. It is not “so bad it’s good” fare for that reason; at least in those cases, particularly with the previously mentioned Neil Breen, there is a degree of sincerity which means the film can transcend beyond the motives and material limitations of its production. All Air 2040 succeeds in doing is making you agree with its lead character when he unceremoniously blurts out, “Living this life I am just doing a favour to myself, but I no-longer wish to.”
Every now and again you get a film that is so terminally lazy, incurably unimaginative, and fatally lacking in self-awareness that you find yourself asking: is this a joke? Unfortunately, Air 2040 will not leave anyone laughing, and lacks even the qualities of a “so bad it’s good” disasterpiece à la Messrs Breen and Wiseau.
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