There isn't a narrative, although the film is arranged to recount an epic journey using voice-over readings from authors like Homer, Sophocles, Milton, Shakespeare, Beckett and Nietzsche. There are also title-card quotes, songs and music, including some pieces performed in old film clips (such as Leontyne Price singing Motherless Child). Meanwhile we see a collage of old film clips and crisp new footage shot in snowy Alaska featuring silent men in yellow, blue and black parkas that obscure their faces.
The film has a remarkably emotional tone, even though it's difficult to make much sense out of it. While the new footage is beautiful, its links to the other material is rather tenuous. Occasionally there's a clever visual parallel between images. Although who these parka-wearing guys represent is a mystery; they're often immobile, just standing in the middle of nowhere. And there are also glimpses of what looks like a homeless man in a deserted city.
It's sometimes fascinating to see how scenes have been assembled together, as the grainy black and white contrasts strikingly with the sharp new imagery. And many of the old scenes are strongly evocative, as they show scenes of destruction, poverty and a variety of faces that hint at racial themes in post-war Britain (most of the people are black or Asian). Also, as there is a general sense of the journey progressing, including a lot of clips that feature modes of transportation.
Yes, all of this is very beautiful, but there are art films and there are ART films. This one's so high-minded and impenetrable that it begins to lull us to sleep as it goes along. The music sometimes jolts us awake, as do scenes of fires and floods and several fascinating faces. It's the kind of movie that some film critics read a lot into, declaring it a work of genius. And there's no doubt that Akomfrah is a gifted artist who is saying something important.
Watching his film is like staring at a moving painting.
Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Friday 7th October 2011
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
IMDB: 5.5 / 10
Director: John Akomfrah
Producer: Lina Gopaul, David Lawson
Screenwriter: John Akomfrah