I’m not sure where, or how to start. Usually, those reviews always come with an intro, but how to introduce a seven-hour long-take? If I was asked to summarise the entire seven hours, I would, sadly enough, have to say that it’s about two people (artists Niclas Hallberg and Stina Pehrsdotter) who colour stones black and white on a beach, who often disappear from view only to come back a couple minutes later. Maybe I should also mention that the film also shows those two people putting wooden sticks into the beach sand. This is what really happens in the film, but it’s a crude version of what we see. Seeing does not necessarily mean making sense of something. Any synopsis would fail to get to the bottom of the trailer, and would, perhaps, only put people off. So maybe I should just describe what my mind saw, because this is much more intriguing than what my eyes were seeing.
I’m aware that I run the risk of completely misinterpreting the film. Perhaps what I saw wasn’t intended by Anders Weberg himself. On the other hand, I guess that Anders didn’t create closed-off meaning. Just like the 72min teaser, which I reviewed a while ago, this trailer is, to me at least, a medium to discover yourself. I can imagine that someone who watches the Ambiancé trailer probably sees something else that differs from what my own views. But this is the beauty of it. There is no right or wrong. It’s a kind of experience that expresses itself in thoughts.
The seven-hour piece is carried by two performers, who do a wonderful job, and who made me wonder whether I was really seeing a film, or whether I was seeing a performance. Is the Ambiancé trailer a performance film? Where does “film” stop, and where does “performance” begin? Ambiancé blurs the line, and it’s for this reason that it’s a superb gallery piece. I wouldn’t want to watch it in a dark cinema, stuck in my seat for seven hours. I have experience with Lav Diaz’s long films, and they’re perfectly fine for cinema. The crux with Diaz’s films is that there is a heavy narrative, sometimes with a lot of dialogues which, after two or three hours, begin to unravel the entire narrative. It is important to stay with it. Anders’ work has a lofty nature to it. It was perfectly fine to take a break and get a coffee, digest the images I have seen, and then return to it. The film was running continuously, but I wasn’t always physically present. Being away from the screen from time to time actually helped me to make sense of what I saw. It gave me space (and time) to ponder the images (well there is only one image, but you know what I mean!!).
So what did my mind see? My eyes saw two performers. One of them was dressed in black, the other in white. My mind saw a dance between Life (white) and Death (black). At the beginning of the film, Anders highlights the words life, death, love, quest and escape. You could take it as something that only drags the film into an even more endless (slow) spectacle. But no, those five words are, in fact, what the film is about. If you really wanted a synopsis, then those are your words: life, death, love, quest and escape. The length of the film (and, in this case at least, also the length of the one take) reminded me of this intriguing part of my trauma research.
In my thesis on the films of Lav Diaz, I argued that a representation of post-trauma wouldn’t have been possible to the same extent in a two-hour long film. Why not? Because two hours don’t give you enough screen time for an in-depth study of human psychology. Then I came across a five-hour theatre play about the Rwandan genocide, connected to the argument that society and culture impose restrictions on the representation of trauma. A trauma narrative has to have a beginning and an end, it needs to have a climax and a denouement. It shouldn’t be excessively long. It should give the main points, but no details. Those representations are always in favour of the traumatic event, but not of the psychology that follows.
Perhaps, we cannot speak of trauma in the case of Ambiancé. Perhaps we can. I don’t want to read something that isn’t necessarily there. But the trailer is definitely about human psychology; the psychology of loss, of grief, of struggle. The interaction between Black (death) and White (life) makes this absolutely clear. There is an instance when White puts a rope around Black, dragging him along, then sort of tying him up in such a way that Black can no longer move his arms. Life struggles with the presence of death, a presence we are actually fully aware of, but a presence we often suppress and deny. We try to restrict Death’s access to our being, because we’re scared of it.
At a later point, White lays down in the middle of the frame while Black puts stones onto White. It looks and feels like a burial ritual. Death overcomes Life. But then there is Life enveloping Death with a piece of white cloth at a later stage, a sort of embrace. Death goes down on his knees, Life follows. They look at each other. The embrace is complete. This image of Life and Death looking intently at each other for a long time after their hours-long battle is a sign of acceptance. Life isn’t possible without Death, and vice versa. Both are part of our daily going-ons.
I know from my experience with post-trauma that our, at times excessive, fear of death can be crippling. I’m surely not the only one, who tried to tie down Death because I wanted Life. Years later I would learn to wrap this white cloth around Death and embrace it, which now allows me to live life to the fullest (at least according to my standards 🙂 ). I don’t think this film only appeals to me. I’m sure there are people, who have struggled with grief, for instance, who see a similar representation in Anders’ film.
There isn’t a lot in the trailer of Ambiancé, but that what is there is profound, and this is what counts. However, you need to allow your mind to wander. Don’t try to stop it from going places. In a way, I see Ambiancé as a form of meditation where you can discover yourself. But this will only happen, if you allow it to happen.