Chicago Underground Film Fest 24 Review: Konstantina Kotzamani’s LIMBO is a haunting journey through symbolism, gender performance and socialization.

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“The leopard shall lie down with the goat.

The wolves shall live with the lambs.

And the young boy will lead them.”

Konstantina Kotzamani’s films have a reputation for relying on the symbolic order for their sense of visual narrative. This is no secret. LIMBO, which premiered at Semaine de Critique of Cannes in 2016 and is currently experiencing its Chicago Premiere at the 24th Chicago Underground Film Festival, in this light is aptly described as a beautiful sequence of visual poetry that brings complex themes to stunning heights.

As a child reaches out to touch a whale carcass and floats prone in the reflection of the moon, the world continues to turn. The stars continue to shine. The sun still rises. A whale awakens. Life continues in a cycle that has been mythologized in a sequence of ritual and a complex structure of signification in a manner that exposes many of the ideological undercurrents that have influenced human reproduction and human behavior — that is the material influence that affects the superstructure that we call religion.

How Kotzamani’s symbols in LIMBO are knit together in a tapestry that portrays the mystery that is woman between burned virgins, male anger, and a whale that loses whole humans in its belly as a pack of young boys ponder it is nothing less than masterful storytelling that enraptures the viewer’s emotions and senses equally.

Religious symbolism, such as that invoked by the quoted passage found in the biblical book of Isaiah, often invokes images of men in leadership, that is, at least in hegemonic Western culture — whether it’s detailing the account of those who lie down with the lamb or those who lead the in the board room and become President.

These aspects are of tantamount importance to consider in works like LIMBO, that is many works of the Modern Era (and according to some interpretations, even those of the Bronze Age as they are reconsidered) — whether they be those of art, cinema, literature or social structure — in that they trouble the notion that men will always lead through the careful examination of the symbols inherent to other cultures and systems.

That LIMBO echoes symbols and signs found throughout the oral histories of many cultures that sought to make sense of the obscured ends of human reproduction is, however, no mystery as the theories behind contemporary feminisms often rely upon this process. This aspect of LIMBO becomes even more important to consider when it is the case that some forms of secularism are still rife with the problems that come from patriarchal sensibilities pertaining to gender that are the vestigial tails of societies built on myths that subjugated women.

When we consider the sign shrouding the mystery that is the “high priestess” of the tarot, the whale that was the mystery that Ahab strove to conquer, nature represented as “ the mother,” fertility, lunar symbols, third and fourth wave feminisms, and the simple classical symbolism surrounding these concepts, the way that Kotzamani manages to navigate and blur the virgin/whore binary in LIMBO in favor of presenting a holistic mother is a beautiful testament to the process that is life.

LIMBO, through exquisitely crafted scenes and striking cinematography, tells the timeless story of young men seeking to make sense of forces they simply cannot understand. Eros and Thanatos, as forces, e.g. life and death, can only be experienced.

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