‘Visitors’: The eyes have it

January 24, 2014


Godfrey Reggio makes the kind of movies I think Terrence Malick longs to make.

While Malick has already rejected story and plot, as well as dialogue, character development and, occasionally, even characters, he’s never made a film where he ignored all of these things completely.

And that’s all that Reggio has made. His newest, “Visitors,” another film in which his images are set to – and illuminated by – the music of Philip Glass, is, in its own way, as impressionist and oblique as such earlier efforts as “Koyaanisqatsi” and the other films in the “-qatsi” trilogy.

Reggio generally works in individual images; none are directly connected to the others (though, in this film, that’s not always the case). Each image has a certain power, though that power is not always obvious. Reggio, however, is that endangered species: a filmmaker willing to take his time onscreen. So each of the black-and-white images in “Visitors” lingers, virtually unmoving, for at least 30 seconds, sometimes longer than a minute.

The camera peers directly into people’s eyes and faces. The image we see is slowed down; Reggio obviously has instructed his subjects not to blink and to stare straight ahead (he also obviously is giving instructions to these statue-like people from off-camera at a couple of points, though we don’t hear anything beside the music).

But it is through the accretion of images that Reggio’s film builds their power. He shows us pictures of the young and the elderly. He shows us massive, sterile-looking office buildings. Images of what seem like primordial swamps (shot in Louisiana) glimmer and flicker with the passing of speeded-up clouds; the image is followed by another imposing industrial fortress.

Sometimes Reggio is too on-the-nose with his metaphors: here, a decaying amusement park (which he comes back to a couple of times) seems like an obvious symbol, as does the shot of the tidal wave of garbage rippling slowly toward the camera, pushed by an unseen bulldozer.

His message – as in the past – ultimately boils down to what it always boils down to: We have savaged paradise, a planet we are only visiting. We’ve treated the Earth the way some people treat a rental car. And look what it’s done to us.

Make no mistake: Reggio’s films are, by most people’s standards, experimental. They’re nonlinear, like a kaleidoscope of thought-provoking images meant to stir your intellect without telling you what to think. I was thoroughly mesmerized – but know what you’re getting into before you go.

If you let it, “Visitors” casts a spell, unlike any film you’ve seen in a long time.

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