A Film a Week - Aleph

 previously published on Cineuropa

The work of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges is quite hard to adapt. Yet if there is one contemporary filmmaker who seems fit for the job, it is Iva Radivojević, who has proven with her earlier body of work in the short form that she can perfectly blend the narrative, documentary and experimental cinema into striking essay films. Her second feature-length film, Aleph, premiered at New Directors / New Films and is now screening in the Sarajevo Film Festival’s Kinoscope Real section.

As Borges wrote, the first letter of the alphabet, A, Alpha or Aleph is the beginning of everything and contains all of the world’s knowledge. Radivojević takes this idea as her starting point, makes it a little more concrete and sets off to tell a story which, content-wise, has little to do with Borges’, making her Aleph more inspired by the writing of Borges than a straightforward adaptation. She is open about this, pretty much printing it on the introductory title card.

The rest of her Aleph is a lucid dream that goes through several countries on five continents and several languages, exposing how the world is connected by sheer human presence. The film’s sort-of protagonist is the narrator, voiced by the poet Anne Waldman, the dreamer of the dreams of other people and places. It all starts in Borges’ city, Buenos Aires where a woman named Clara complains about “feeling too much.” In the next segment, we follow the desert guide through natural corridors somewhere in the Algerian part of Sahara. The story then moves to New York where the actor Žarko Laušević is interviewed by Maša Dakić about his career and prison experience. By the end of the film, Radivojević has also taken us to a Greek Orthodox monastery, a polar station in Greenland, urban Kathmandu, a river in Thailand, an almost surreal world of one set of twins / clones / doubles in South Africa and, finally, to space.

Aleph could be observed as a collection of short films, loosely threaded together by voice-over narration. But it can also be seen as a single, stylistically and narratively diverse yet rather compact feature film. There is a sense of coding to it, as every segment of the film is filmed in a different way and with a different style (some of them could make perfect tributes to the works of, for example, Jim Jarmusch and Apichatpong Weerasethakul), but the way one segment melts into another is also smooth and seamless. However, not all connections between the stories are linear, direct and foreseeable: Radivojević’s intricate interlinking adds another layer to the story and another dimension to the world she creates and recreates.

Judging by this, Aleph is a work of philosophy applied to the world of cinema, but it is also a work of auditory and visual poetry. Iva Radivojević maintains full control, editing the material herself while leading the rest of the cast and crew — cinematographer Jimmy Ferguson, for instance — with her vision, and a combination of precise instructions and freedom. Aleph is a demonstration of filmmaking versatility and intellect, but also of the emotion behind the process. It is a type of film that leaves a lasting impression.

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