Experimental Reviews

Facets (2022) – 3.5 stars

Director: Kino Lee

Running time: 28mins

You might remember the first time Indy Film Library covered Kino Lee’s work. Two years ago, I reviewed her three-minute experimental film Huo Zhe – a deceptively simple abstract piece, in which two hands bathed in an initially tranquil pool of water, before gradually being drowned out by a visual cacophony of bubbles and ink.

It now appears that Lee has revisited her own distinct well of inspiration, in order to deliver Facets. Essentially the same idea, elongated 10 times over, it was always going to be a risky production. While Huo Zhe had plenty of room for interpretation, it was completely removed from the chains of interpretation most viewers have been raised to depend on when engaging with art. The fact it was only 3 minutes no doubt would have helped it get past quite a few cynical takes, in a way that its spiritual successor will not.

Lee and her collaborator Lake Heckaman – a self-described ‘generative artist’ who provided short animation sequences for Facets – should brace themselves, then. There will be some people who sit through this and become increasingly agitated by it. And some of them will quite possibly pen reviews, noting their displeasure at wasting their time watching a bath-bomb dissolve, or belittling it as ‘a half-hour video documenting someone’s Lush haul’.

Personally, I don’t mind Facets one bit. While it might have lost some of its ‘focus’ (in as much as you can say a film about bubbling, darkening water has focus) I can only welcome a 30-minute opportunity for a little guided meditation. Just as was the case with Lee’s previous effort, this presents willing viewers with both an oasis of serenity and an escape from a crowded world of competing narratives, as well as a portrait of that chaotic and nonsensical world.

One thing that a longer run-time does seem to allow for is to contextualise that within some wider lifecycle (although as always, I have to stress that it is impossible to say exactly what Lee intended here). Once again, the opening segment features an image of Lee’s hands in a state of languid relaxation. This is interrupted by a frenetic animation sequence from Heckaman – while Lee’s music (provided entirely by the polymathic director) takes on a different tone indeed. Having started out as soothing and rhythmic piano, other instruments now screech, chime and honk into the piece.

Perhaps this is us reliving what it is to be born. To have only our hands in front of us, and the rhythm of our mother’s heartbeat for company. A secure, certain world, suddenly disrupted by the ear-splitting confusion outside, which we had no idea lay in waiting. Keeping with this theme, as the water continues to bubble and flow, we see less of our hands, and we hear less of that assured comforting piano. It is easy to lose sight of everything amid the mayhem of growing up, or even finding your way as an adult.

It doesn’t get better, or easier, for everyone – and nobody should take that for granted. But eventually, in some cases, the disorder we bear witness to can align itself as a form of beauty. And in the final third of Lee’s film, this seems to be the case – as the now-foaming water erupts into colourful pandemonium. Amid this, ghostly images of the two hands from the start ebb and flow into view, as does the face of a young woman in Heckaman’s animations, while the piano accompanying the images recovers some of its cohesion and grandeur. The whole thing swells to emotional heights that, had we not been forced from that initial womb to confront stormier waters, we would never have encountered.

As my mind wandered through this last chapter, this suggested to me that existence can be cruel and confusing, but also deliver moments to be treasured. That is not a message which should invalidate anybody’s suffering, or excuse society from improving things to make life happier and more comfortable for every creature on the planet. But it is something worth hanging on to, even in moments of despair.

There have been moments of peace, moments of beauty, moments of bliss – even amid the very worst of things – and there can be again. Whether you feel you need 30 minutes of avant-garde cinema to remind you of that is up to you. For me, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

On a technical basis, every facet of Facets deserves credit. Lee’s music provides her images with sumptuous audible texture, while the explosions of colour through an initially-grey world are a visual respite we have craved throughout the film, and delivered in an extremely satisfying way. Meanwhile, Heckaman’s animations might occasionally feel a bit like DALL-E mini took acid, but the way their cold, geometric imagery metamorphosises into the colourful glows of the latter film is entirely appropriate to proceedings. But the biggest problems for the film seem to be that run-time, and its editing. This film could be at least 10 minutes shorter, and if its editors had filtered out a little bit more of its content, what was left would have felt all the more vibrant and impactful for it. Overall, though, Facets is a success – and one which leaves me hungry to see more from the mind of Kino Lee.


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