A preview by Gervase Gordon
“Here is a fiction that borders on science fiction.”
The opening line at the start of the film is almost a challenge – differentiate between these two fictional codes. British science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke’s 3rd law states that a science fiction needs to be “indistinguishable from magic.” Any sufficiently-ancient recovered wisdom is also indistinguishable from magic. These two thoughts came to mind as I watched Dreamstates, the new film by Anisia Uzeyman – a portrait of an unknowable America: haunted and hollow.
“I dreamt of you. And then you appeared.”
Filmed in thirty-two states over the course of just forty-two days within a prefaced context of an uninhabited America, the film presents a boundless blackness unconfined by structures, people, and attitudes as well as temporal and geographical boundaries. The film follows two characters as they grapple with their mutual magnetism and antagonism – attracting and repelling, attraction and revulsion. We are compelled by their language, their movement, their quixotic mission through altered states. We half-expect them to extend beyond an elastic limit at any instant. To evaporate. To teleport.
The camera gazes, glazed like, out the van or train window, we see the rear and front views reflected. The past that is not-yet distant and the not-too-distant future. Time spirals into strange shapes, by the end I had little concept of the duration. The film stars acclaimed poet and actor Saul Williams, CX KIDTRONIK (Nine Inch Nails, Saul Williams), Beau Sia (Rachel Getting Married), Guillermo Brown (Pegasus Warning), and William Nadylam (Claire Denis’ White Material), as well as Anisia Uzeyman (Alain Gomis’ Tey). The performances intertwine
The sonic landscape mirrors the visual – shards of audio-ephemera (songs, overheard voices, radio chat, car engines, breathing, and the whirring of fans, wind) interrupt the drone. The soundtrack provides clues to the emotional and creative journeys of the lovers. Within the actual musical performance scenes the artists find themselves reduced to a richly-poetic spectacle, ultimately inert, lost in the void of hypnotised faces. The other musical performances (drumming on tables, chairs, street performers, words) are full of meaning and excitement. But the film seems to be seeing their love as their most inspired complex, seductive, compelling and important creation.
“I’m leaving, I can’t stay. You don’t feel like we lost something? Like we lost the beginning?”
The somnambulant tranquillity of ‘the road’ is frequently interrupted by lysergic episodes – toxic red-skied landscapes and harshly-saturated interiors. Whirling, blurring, moments when Uzeyman playfully, mischievously, restlessly disorientates the viewer. These expressions of dislocation and disconnection have a cumulative impact – a kind of dread. The imminence of something sharp. That fraction of a second between leaping off the diving board and the arrival of the cold, wet rush of the water. The hotel lounge episodes in particular recall Kode9 and Lawrence Lek’s imagined South China ‘N0tel’ that explores a post-scarcity world in which the only thing in short supply is humans. Sprawling chambers, glass corridors, warped spaces, quantum clouds, gravitational pools, dancing voids and holograms of the dead. There is a common thread here.
Nina Simone’s The Family drifts over vacant expanses of arid pre-apocalyptic tundra, her plaintive refrain brings a sickly-sweet poignancy:
“And I took a train outta there
I told the engineer I don’t believe there’s no help handy
Looks like even God can’t save the family
Looks like only God can save the family.”
The eyes have it. And at some point you become aware that out of the swampy palimpsest is crawling a love story. “I love you”. The eyes have it, Uzeyman frequently reminds us. Eyes don’t lie. Watching. Wanting. Waiting. For you. To justify my love.
“You can’t leave in the middle of the story, it’s the middle, you can’t leave in the middle, you can’t leave yet.”
Through their intimacies our two protagonists seek redemption – they are fugitives from reality, pursuing pure forms of expression. To their audiences. To each other. To themselves. A tender moment in a doorway. A touched arm. A raised eyebrow. Their physicality brought to life via the film’s iPhone cinematography. The train chaser. Spinning on the chair. The walking and running. A particularly memorable PV shot of red shoes walking down steps.
“It was magic, it was magical.”
Bonnie and Clyde is a telling touchstone – these two characters already know the ending. But can they cheat it? Refreshingly, there is no attempt to portray an actual physical future here. Dreamstates is a post-future sci-fi about letting go. Of time. Of self. There is redemption in hopeful interactions, ritual and community.
Buy tickets to see the European Premiere of Dreamstates
Mon 31 Oct | 19:00 | British Library BOOK NOW