Bucharest ShortCut Cinefest
'Shadows of the World'
- Directed by Marios P. Papageorgiou -
Apocalyptic in scope, expressionistic in style and echoing the styles of multiple past masters, Shadows of the World presents a bold but bleak vision of what it means to wade through life towards our inevitable demise. In a disturbingly close future, where climate change has ravaged the planet into complete collapse, we witness four strangers struggle through the rubble searching for survival. But, as has been the cadence of human history, this doesn’t lead them to co-operation, it leads them to conflict.
As their bloody bodies beat, rip and stab at one another overseen by a dastardly fly, the prize they fight over—a bloated, delectable cake—that prize begins to rot. Either baring its true visage as an illusory dream, or simply slowly decaying while the humans squabble between themselves. All this imagery, oozing with eternal relevance, paints an expressionistic image which can only ever have manifold interpretations. For me, the hyperfocus of the Anthropocene and climate catastrophe was too much to ignore. The cake taking the form of the slowly depleting planet while nations squabble over each other failing to meet agreed targets. But thanks to its open-ended ambiguity, the images of Shadows of the World will be able to resonate with a phenomenal range of themes and ideas.
Running forefront to the themes, Shadows of the World competently presents a complex aesthetic. Rich, shadowy images render near-black frames with confidence and splendour, while an affecting soundscape of dirty scrapes, dingy dripping, and twisted melodies encompasses us in an aesthetic of bleak unease. All of which are supplemented by exquisite production design which drops us into the post-apocalyptic world of fractured concrete and bloody rags. Particularly notable is the film’s two-sided presentation.
Telling a story of the present through high-contrast live action, supplemented by monochrome montaged stills of the past. Summing to creating a collage which blends tales of past and present.
Compiling stills to tell such a tale cannot avoid comparison to Chris Marker’s seminal work La Jetée (1962) which pioneered a presentation of the past, present and future through evocative still images and descriptive audio. Similarly, the film draws parallels with directors such as the pre-eminent Andrei Tarkovsky, evoked by the ceaseless dripping water, and the contemporary Yorgos Lanthimos for the expressionistic allegories.
Through its many strengths, the universality of Shadows of the World is unquestionably absent. With its pacing, allegory and ambiguity likely to push away a crowd unfamiliar with the demands of experimental, fiction film. Moreover some contemporary viewers may roll their eyes at the overreliance on religious connotation—as presented through both the images and the audio—denoting them as markers of generations past.
Opening with the bold question “when you die, how far reaching is your death?”, Shadows of the World posits itself as a thinker. And in this regard, it does not disappoint, providing a wash of imagery, allegory, reference and implication. But, as with most films which err on experimental, it will be up to the viewer to give themselves over to the madness of the production to draw their own meaningful conclusions from the project’s intriguing ambiguity.