In The Cities

In The Cities


Reviewed by: Chris

The sense of living in the moment. Finding a deep satisfaction with every breath is something so easy to lose in the city. Someone told me she learns Zen from walking the dog - because a dog 'experiences' the moment. Everything. Every falling leaf. Every passing scent. For us mere humans, our thoughts play a continuous soundtrack, and one we can usually only blot out with increasingly powerful jolts to the senses. We forget what it is, quite literally, to 'smell the grass'. To be alone, for a moment, with our consciousness.

That type of experience is so hard to put into words. The movie's objective is as difficult as Virginia Woolf's 'stream of consciousness'. To define the undefinable is to err. It is like the sound of that sudden, small intake of breath before you kiss the person of your dreams. The sound of the blood rushing in your eardrums as you are swept away with consciousness of passion or by the words of a great teacher that hang in the air. Or sometimes in the smallest, of seemingly insignificant incidents. And what can be even harder is trying to re-connect. When you know something is missing, but can't put your finger on it.

Copy picture

In The Cities is a poetic and almost philosophical reflection on the restlessness of city life. And the story of trying to get in touch with something deeper - while still living in the city.

The initial pace of the film may seem exasperatingly slow. I almost expect the central character, Fanny (Hélène Florent), to sit and watch the leaves turn brown. But it is taking us through an experience, taking us to a place that cannot be conveyed with words and images alone. The pacing is intentional.

It is didactic in tones at times. "This is what it must be like to die," says an old woman (Hélène Loiselle) lying on the ground. She has slipped and fallen and is watching the leaves of the trees. It is only after a number of cul-de-sacs that Fanny, who helps her up again, confronts her own expectations of who she is and finds an unexpected guide. A guide in the form of a blind man. His qualities enable her to open her eyes to a world she has struggled towards.

Watching In The Cities is almost to experience a physiological metamorphosis. Our fidgeting gives way to patience. We breathe a bit deeper - it is a beautiful film. We slowly realise that there is a repeated attempt to find meaning beyond the immediate. The same way that good sonnet can find real if unexpected and unstated meaning by juxtaposing words. Like the process of creativity itself.

Fanny initially has a blank space. She wakes up at 3am every morning and cries for no reason. For her, like the audience, the point is irritatingly obscure. We are blind to what the filmmaker is trying to say, and understanding will not come by attempts to rush.

As in watching a piece of fiction, we need to suspend disbelief with poetic form long enough for an idea to seep through. Over-the-top lines only avoid being pretentious by the fact that there is a point to this long dalliance. "Stars are people's eyes that have escaped their lids and risen to become bright and to rest. That is why, in the country, where everyone sleeps, the sky has all its stars, unlike in city skies, where few can be seen. So many city folk are restless, weeping, reading, laughing or lying awake, and they keep their eyes."

I was also struck by the fact that the film comes from French Quebec, an area that has shorter working hours than most western societies but not as few as France. Fanny's work, however, looking after trees also enables her to meditate on nature and beauty. She slowly develops a sensitivity and a capacity that she had always wanted.

Says director Catherine Martin: "Walking in the city, it often happens that when my gaze encounters a person whose pain is obvious, I suddenly feel flooded with compassion. At the same time I feel a sense of revolt as I become aware of my helplessness to change anything whatsoever . . . dans les villes was born of these feelings."

Reviewed on: 17 Aug 2007
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Misery loves company in Quebec.

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Amber Wilkinson **

Director: Catherine Martin

Writer: Catherine Martin

Starring: Hélène Florent, Robert Lepage, Ève Duranceau, Hélène Loiselle, Markita Boies, Pierre Collin, Béatrice Picard

Year: 2006

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: Canada


EIFF 2007

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