Experimental Reviews

Longing for a Shadow (2020) – 3.5 stars

Director: Catherine Forster

Cast: Hadar Ahuvia

Running time: 4mins

The lockdown months were a period of unprecedented isolation for many people – forced into isolation at a time when they needed more than ever to reach out to others for comfort. Longing for a Shadow speaks to that particular experience, but it also harks back to another recurring theme of the shutdown of human activity through 2020: the regeneration of nature.

Catherine Forster’s camera settles on two particular scenes to illustrate these themes. Initially, a gorgeously crafted automaton presents us a mechanical diorama of a waterside ecosystem. A frog leaps from a lily pad into the cool waters of a pond, while dragonflies frantically skim the surface of the pool. It is a lovely composition, and the creator (whether it was Catherine Forster or not) deserves to be noted in the closing credits – which currently leave its origins a mystery.

Composed of only a few flickering frames, the shot harks back to the Thaumatrope or the zoetrope of the 19th century – the earliest forms of animation which blended a handful of images together via movement of a disc or carousel. For all the warmth that fitting this kind of historic cinematic tradition into a modern work brings, however, there is a problem with this. The content is crammed with strobing, but carries no warning for anyone who might be watching with epilepsy. And even if you are lucky enough not to suffer from seizures, it may well leave you feeling thoroughly sick, after four-and-a-half minutes.

In the style of a Thaumatrope, a second image is then added on top of the first – at times creating a strange composite of two worlds blurred into one. Forster blends in a real-world image of Hadar Ahuvia performing some kind of interpretive dance. Measured and precise, she glides about a deserted forest clearing on her own. Her hands seem to be reaching for something which is no longer there – an experience many of us might relate to from the lockdown months – searching frantically for another figure. This is what I assume the title Longing for a Shadow refers to. Meanwhile the brown leaves carpeting the floor speak of the drab, dying world we found ourselves marooned in for those long lockdown months.

Thematically, the film is most interesting in those fleeting moments where these two worlds collide. While the media, governments and businesses pined for a myopic lost ‘world’, with flights downed and offices closed, they presented a small and anthropocentric perception of what a ‘world’ actually is. Beyond the constructed economy we are taught from birth is ‘natural’, real nature was thriving – the world was not lost at all, it was just carrying on without us. Initially this might give us cause to feel even more isolated about our lot in the grand scheme of things, but arguably it might also give us a little perspective. While we looked desperately for a human-shaped shadow, a return to the destructive norms we had been wedded to for decades, we neglected a far grander scheme that we remained part of; the endless reconfiguration and regeneration of the natural world.

Practically, though, the film has a problem in how this blending of the two worlds is presented. We flash back and forth relentlessly through the run-time. We are left longing for more time in either of the two worlds, and to be allowed a little more detail from either. It is very difficult to make out the sweeping movements of Ahuvia in particular, and that is a great shame. Her choreography could have provided more space to think – and that is what this film needed more than anything. Instead, the endless visual noise, glorious as some of it is, prevents the mind from wandering where it might have.

Overall, this is a solid experimental film. There is plenty of food for thought, and a lot of inventive visual work to play with our expectations. It just needs a little more time and space, and possibly to soften that jerking, flashing animation style, which would turn more stomachs than heads while screening in a darkened theatre.


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