Above And Below


Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

Above And Below
"If this weren’t a documentary, these five people would surely find themselves nestled in the pages of some postmodern epic."

One of the frequent crimes of cinema is the hegemonic image presented of America, its vistas and its citizens. North America itself is an incredible, vast and absurdly varied continent. It contrasts uninhabitable wastelands with the lushest national parks on the planet. Urban exuberance harmonises with an undercurrent of decay and ruin that brings to mind the impossible contrasts of Chinese cities. In these habitats, people of all possible status exist; the ultra wealthy, the cripplingly poor, and religious zealots rub shoulders with some of the greatest scientific minds to have ever lived. This documentary by director Nicolas Steiner focuses on five individuals who encapsulate the spirit of American Exceptionalism at its most intense.

They are the people who have slipped through the cracks of the system to live their lives in totally unique ways, such as Lalo, a man who ekes out an existence in the tunnels of Las Vegas. There’s also April, a woman who has joined a fake Mars colony in an American desert, where everything is acted out with minute attention to detail, at least until cows stumble into their Martian hideaway. Dave is a divorcee with a devotion to God; homeless and only eligible for food stamps, he has convinced himself that this existence is the only way he can live now, and it gives him plenty of time to focus on his musical catharsis. The last of the subjects are Rick and Cindy, a couple living in storm drains, under the constant threat of having their life reset and washed away every time the rain comes.

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If this weren’t a documentary, these five people would surely find themselves nestled in the pages of some postmodern epic, a Pynchon-esque tome that would eventually twist itself to an ambiguous but somehow resolute finale. It isn’t bizarre that it feels like this either, because there are themes that they all ruminate upon: the probability of surviving the impending end of the world, spirituality, family, the chance of life on another planet. Post-modern American novels are written about fantastic people find that and, upon digging,turn out to be real. It should be alarming, but time and time again life is proven to be far stranger than anything even the most fevered imagination can conjure.

The backdrop of America only serves to highlight the main themes of the film, with the plaintive, majestic vistas rubbing up against the impossible neon sprawl of its cities. Every care has been taken by Steiner to capture the close details of these stories and then frame them within a landscape that feels like it could do nothing but create these people. There’s a desperate sense of necessity here, that these people must exist, the output of some arcane equation, and that to ignore them would be to refute some vital aspect of existence.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2015
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Above And Below packshot
Existence on the fringes of society.

Director: Nicolas Steiner

Writer: Nicolas Steiner

Year: 2015

Runtime: 118 minutes

Country: Switzerland, Germany, US

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