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brothers quay - "in absentia"
posted on 13-Jul-2001 by anton
this short 20-minute film by quay brothers is their first new release in five years. it has premiered at the directors' fortnight at cannes last year. knowing pervious work by quay brothers, i was quite excited to see it on the big screen. yet another reason for that was the music of legendary composer, conductor, music theorist karlheinz stockhausen.

last time i watched an assorted collection of quay brothers shorts, i chose to combine it with "the collapsing void" by ihd for the soundtrack. it is amazing how well it worked out then. the cut-up, jittery motion of puppets, the gloomy, dark, sliding camera shots fitted the music that would creep up with caustic cold ambient, explode with unexpected corroded noise; twitch and retreat, frightening and mesmerizing at the same time. this should explain why I was so excited to see "stockhausen" on the film poster.

this short film is a spectacular visual experience, combining stunning puppeteering, which is a little more subtle than their more famous work, and actual live actors. "in absentia" is filled with abstract images; i prefer not to delve into their symbolism, resorting for the purely visual interpretation.

the film revolves around uncomfortable close-ups, cut-up images, unusual angles, broken perspectives. the focus slowly, almost randomly, travels throughout the picture, stopping on accidental elements that before used to be just a deformed mass, a shadow. the spot of light moves, separates, disappears, and then suddenly blinds you, accompanied by the music crescendo. the fast-paced montage is replaced by slowly evolving, long shots. the perspective is broken - pores on woman's fingers with dirty fingernails fill the screen, and seem to be something completely surreal, the next moment you get a shot of a big mansion house that seems nothing more than a toy.

this woman that you see only in succession of cut-up, angular shots, seems to be writing constantly, awkwardly holding the pencil; pencils break one after another, and seem to receive a life of their own in the presence of an eerie, nightmarish puppet. it is almost pointless to describe any characters in quay brothers' films, those that have seen them would recognize their peculiar aesthetics.

the film advances so slowly, self-absorbed in abstract images. one of the most striking parts is the lighting - the light beams emerge and move in a strange puppet-like fashion, it' is nothing more than a reflection animated on screen; they move slowly, appearing and blinking on window panes, lines of floor tiles, accompanied by drawn-out, minimal, cold frequencies.

the music is a story in itself, it fits so perfectly, following the visual narrative with elongated strings, reminding me of never-ending wailing waves of early ultra milkmaids; and then abruptly it would crash and break with mechanized sound and swirling, glitch-like minimalism. it might remind you of raw noises of bad sector or some of the sonic noodling of glitch artists; it is always dark, disarranged, quiet and transparent, strangely intense at the same time.

carefully calculated "randomness" is important in this film; it builds up this eerie atmosphere, deliberately slow revealing factual pieces; it becomes so surreal, that a final plot explanation is almost disappointing.

i was very impressed by its abstract, grainy textures, uneven and so efficient pace, spectacular lights and camera work. it seems that it is more of a "well-balanced" film, compared with earlier work. it is not just the puppets that are the subject of broken, haunting movement, but the whole world created by them, from light spots to pencils, seems to be a part of it. i suppose it might appear less "amusing" than their earlier work, but overall it offers a lot more open and challenging interpretation. combined with the perfect score, this film is definitely something worth watching.

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