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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: The Afterlight

The Afterlight (Three Stars)
U.S.: Alexei Kaleina & Craig Macneill, 2009

A genuine American art film, shot very lovingly, albeit with a low budget, and filled with sometimes stunningly beautiful images of forests, fields and farms in rural upstate New York (Walton), The Afterlight tries unabashedly for pure cinematic poetry, and often gets it. It’s also sometimes pretentious, though not in a way that alienated me, and the story line is often deliberately opaque, though not annoyingly so.

The story of The Afterlight, by first time filmmakers Alexei Kaleina & Craig Macneill, is set in a short stretch of time before and during a solar eclipse, and it centers on a young couple from the city, smiley but quiet construction worker Andrew (Michael Kelly of The Adjustment Bureau and The Changeling), and pretty, troubled Claire (Jicky Schnee of All Good Things), who try to rescue their relationship (from what we don’t know) by relocating to the country and an old abandoned schoolhouse. There, they slide into internal darkness and angst as they interact with their neighbors, the feisty little girl Lucy (played by local Walton non-professional Morgan Taddeo), the ethereally lovely and slender blind woman Maria (Ana Asensio — and it‘s certainly strange that two knockouts like Claire and Maria are in the same upstate town, never mind neighborhood) and Maria’s melancholy elderly aunt Carol  (memorably played by the late Rhoda Pauley, to whom the movie is dedicated).

There’s one other major character, Claire’s father Carl, played by Rip Torn — who, not surprisingly, gives the best performance in this well-acted movie, though his part consists mostly of voice-overs and one scene with Claire that’s virtually a monologue (in which he recounts his disturbing experiences as a prison van driver), and though all of his moments were added in re-shoots after the film was initially completed. Even in these fragments, Torn is superb, and one only wishes there were more of him.

The best of the movie ravishes. The sunlit green tableaux and shadowy interiors of The Afterlight, in which the other characters seem both trapped and restless (like the bird), are so impeccably framed and so astonishingly well-shot, by cinematographer Zoe White (making her feature debut) that your eyes are always rewarded, your mind usually intrigued. Macneill was a student of Stan Brakhage, and, like Brakhage, he and his moviemaking partner Kaleina have a painterly, poetic bent that can slowly, softly mesmerize the viewer.

I liked the movie very much, and when some of its early festival admirers compared it to Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman, they had some justification. The Afterlight is obviously made by filmmakers who know and admire Antonioni and Bergman, and who would probably be pleased by the comparison — and the images, scenes and emotions often suggest those two masters. (More pastoral than urban, the film reminded me a bit more of Bergman than Antonioni — and it reminded me as well of other lyrical Swedes, like Jan Troell, Alf Sjoberg, Arne Sucksdorff and Bo Wideberg.)

Shaping their tale in moods and rhythms far more European in feel than American, Macneill and Kaleina aren’t afraid to fill their scenes with stillness and solitude, to let their fine cast quietly strip their emotions bare, or to offer an occasional visual symbol or two (a caged songbird, a lonely forest, even the eclipse itself). The director-writer-editor pair, and  cinematographer White, show a sheer love of moviemaking that often makes their film a joy to watch. (Facets)

One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: The Afterlight”

  1. Sandeshaya says:

    Alexei Kaleina? then just wait…
    Thanks.

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“To be a critic is to be a workaholic. Workaholism is socially conditioned: viewed favourably by exploiters, it’s generally ruinous to a worker’s mental health. When T.S. Eliot said criticism was as inevitable as breathing, he failed to mention that, respiratory problems notwithstanding, breathing is easy. Criticism is reflexive before reflective: to formalise/industrialise an involuntary instinct requires time, effort and discipline. The reason we seek remuneration, as opposed to the self-hatred of being a scab, is because all labour should be waged…

“Criticism, so the cliché by now goes, is dying. None of the panel discussions on its death agony, however—including those in which I’ve formally participated—come at it from the wider perspective that the problem surely needs. They defend the ways in which criticism functions in relation to the industry and to the public, but they fail to contextualise these relationships as defined by ultimately rotten and self-harming imperatives.

“Criticism was a noble profession so long as only a few could practice it for money; when the field expands, as it has with a so-called ‘democratisation’ of our practice, those few lose their political power. Competition grows and markets are undercut: publications are naturally going to start paying less. Precarity is both cause and effect of a surplus workforce: the reason you’re only as good as your last article is because there are plenty of other folks who can write the next one in your place. The daily grind is: pitch, or perish.

B”ut criticism, so a counter-cliché goes, is not dying. An irony: this is an elite sport that is no longer elite in terms of who is able to practice it, but in economic terms it’s clutching to a perverse and outmoded hierarchical structure. It’s more meritocratic than ever, now: which is to say it isn’t meritocratic at all. That’s a paradox in bad need of a resolution…”

~ Michael Pattison Manifestoes Film Criticism

“It’s easy to forget when you’re reading a critic every single week or multiple times a week, that most of us who do this job, and have been doing it for a long time, understand that this is basically a parasitic profession. I don’t mean in the sense that we’re evil bloodsucking creatures, but we couldn’t exist if we didn’t have something to analyze. And I’m always conscious of that. So whether I like or don’t like a particular thing you do, my point of view is always that of an appreciator. I just like to be in the world that you create.”
~ Matt Zoller Seitz To Sam Esmail

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