Dark Matter

Dark Matter


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

Like some malformed cross between Le Quattro Volte (2010) and An Anthropological Television Myth (2012), Dark Matter (Materia Oscura) adopts that non-interventionist style currently in vogue on the documentary circuit in order to present a limited but occasionally absorbing ground-level snapshot of the Salto di Quirra Interforces Test Range, the largest missile test base in Europe, which is situated on the Sardinian coast and has been used to test new-generation weapons since 1956.

That date is told to us in the film's closing text-card, but across its 80-minute duration there's scant reference to the wider political implications of such militarised land usage. The emphasis here is on the immediate and indirect ecological effects, which the film renders in aesthetic terms without ever becoming a compelling interrogation in itself. Directors Massimo D’Anolfi and Martina Parenti, who claim to be “less concerned with presenting facts than conveying some disturbing insights”, include many shots of the meshed fences that mark the boundary of Salto di Quirra, and of the signs that warn against trespassing, hunting and photography. This means the film becomes a continually sly conflagration of such rules, though it lacks the urgency or gruelling edge of other recent ground-level documents such as Babylon.

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Early on, a lack of sound bridges between fixed-camera panoramas of the area in question evokes a fractured landscape, tormented by that solitary sound of a cowbell; the pyrotechnics that sublimely intrude upon these otherwise untouched hills have an abstracting effect. In its second half, the film shifts into more protracted scenes, as father and son Italo and Mario Prinna tend to a calf whose malformation is, we gather, a direct result of high levels of thorium in the surrounding locales - which, as a radio transmission informs us earlier in the film, is "far more dangerous than depleted uranium".

Though archive footage links the present-day fallout to the site’s prolonged history (the sound of projected film reels providing a suitably ugly temporal anchor), the film compares unfavourably to similarly-themed passages in, say, Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins (2010), whose own quasi-fictional commentary on the complex relationship between landscape and the economy was insightful, intelligent and darkly comic.

In contrast, one is tempted to ask here: why so non-committal? If the makers wish to draw attention not only to this insidious landscape but also to the unpleasant imperatives that run beneath it, when why limit themselves to a merely expository framework? Still, as a landscape film with a subtle twist, Dark Matter befittingly suggests an energy that brims beneath.

Reviewed on: 07 Jun 2013
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A visit to the ruined environment of a military testing site.

Director: Massimo D'Anolfi, Martina Parenti

Year: 2013

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Italy


BIFF 2013
EIFF 2013

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