Friday, February 12, 2010

Rural Agronomy

All Fall Down (Philip Hoffman, 2009)
**** (Masterpiece)

Philip Hoffman’s 94-minute All Fall Down - his first excavation in full-length features - is a lot of things. It is virtuoso exploration of a southern Ontario farmhouse, a meditation on the damaging effects of imperialism on Nahneebahweequa; a 18th century Canadian aboriginal land activist, as well as for George Lachlan Brown; Phil’s daughters biological father, and it is a diary film of experiences with his wife Janine Marchessault and step-daughter Jessie Marchessault. Though not a traditional documentary, the film incorporates the filmmaking process into it with shots of e-mails with correspondents and the behind-the-scenes activity involved in making All Fall Down.

Scott Birdwise writes in Rivers of Time: The films of Philip Hoffman (Edited by Tom McSorley. Canadian Film Institute Press, 2008) “I think that if we refer to Hoffman’s oeuvre as a kind of “first person cinema,” we can do so in the (implicit) terms of Agamben’s discussion of the melancholic and the schizophrenic, the obsessive neurotic and the epileptic”. All Fall Down expresses Gorgio Arcamben’s three different modalities of temporality: the past tense, the present tense, and the future tense. The past is being explored, the present is being lived, and the future after the exploration being suggested through his daughter Jessie.

Two indelible scenes in the film involve the Canadian landscape. One is long take of a personal skating rink in the back of a farmhouse. It is dusk and the sun is setting in the background. Phil takes a garbage can of water and throws it onto the ice. The surface glimmers as the sunset is projected and lights up the freezing water. The second scene is haunting drift on a river. Previously the film revealed Nahneebahweequa is now buried under a golf course and that her land has been surrendered to the government. George Lachlan Brown's car with all his belongings has been towed and he is left with almost nothing. The drift on the river is a haunting black and white shot where the camera originally jerks to the left, where the river would keep going, but then shifts to the right coming to a halt. This shot repeats itself. For me, it is representative of the two victims of a larger overbearing bureaucratic social system and their inability to cope within it. These are only two examples of meticulous visual scenes with interesting insight woven throughout the film.-David Davidson

(Canadian Film Institute, Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, 13/02, 7PM)

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