Le Cinéma Selections: Review of HUMONGOUS! by Aya Kawazoe
Two filmmakers, two stylistic approaches and one united interest in cinema and sensation.
Review by Tober Corrigan
In this recurring series, we review a film currently playing at Le Cinéma Club, the free short & medium-length curated film site. Then, if relevant, we pair it with a short film currently available in the Miniflix library.
HUMONGOUS! begins with young children running, seemingly without aim or purposeful destination, as the camera paces quickly after. In a cinema-capture method seen most often in Terrence Malick’s collaborations with Emmanuel Lubezki, the camera acts as an imitator of its subjects’ movement, rocking erratically back and forth, up and down, having no locus or framing specifications other than speed, sound and energetic-inducing collisions. The 16mm grain and boxy ratio immediately evokes a scrapbook past, fixing each image in a specific history. At the same time, there’s a strange immediacy to what we’re seeing, this running, this freedom, this feeling of controlled chaos, like it must be happening anew every time the film restarts (whether for us or for some other viewer).
This is a short film as looping mechanism. Its end is its beginning, not literally but thematically. Time magically turns to timelessness, sensations lose beginning or end. HUMONGOUS! attempts to lift us out of our present moment and take us to….well…the cinematic beyond.
After the opening scenes in a public park, we discover that our female protagonist (protagonist being used loosely here), has emerged out of her own consciousness of sensation. Whether it’s entering the sonic abstraction of metal links grating as a park swing goes back and forth or trying to linger on an unremembered motif of music, our character freely enters in and out of spaces, literal for us moviegoers but perhaps no more than metaphorical (or philosophical) those on screen.
As Le Cinéma Club mentions in its liner notes, director Aya Kawazoe has rooted her abstract tone-piece in a very specific natural disaster event in Japan, but its implications are universal. The title, with its boastful, even exuberant ‘!’, makes sense about halfway through the film when our character is in a car hearing a radio feed waxing philosophical.
“The body that has overflown is naked…” the radio announcer says. “…and appears in the environment and synchronizes. The body is exposed clear to the horizon and is wrapped with some gigantic forefeeling. It overflows and emerges, exposing its body…clear to the horizon.”
Hidden here is the thesis of the film, this idea that body and environment have become one, then switched places, then observed each other’s capacities. In a strange way we’re seeing a love dance between corporeality and idea. But the driver brings the same moral that you can also find in another 2020 film (Pixar’s SOUL): “That’s nothing special, just something extraordinarily huge.”
Our most ordinary encounters in life, whether with people, objects, memories or sensations, turn out to be the most wild, unexpected and extraordinary things about us (and the narratives of our lives).
In the film’s final scene, we see a large cutout of a blue whale float by the open expanse of a house. It’s not the real whale, but it’s just as huge, absurd to see in this context, and sublime. HUMONGOUS! is a film after sublime things. Sometimes it finds it in text (several sharp breaks in the film for narration, a la Wong Kar-Wai), other times in the subject matter, sometimes in the form itself.
Kawazoe is examining what it means to make cinema, figuring out what it means for herself. And she invites us along for this most personal journey.
Our Miniflix Companion Pick: MUSIC FOR HOSPITALS by Irene Gil Ramon.
Like HUMONGOUS!, MUSIC FOR HOSPITALS is a short film about feelings and sensations, an abstract exercise rooted in a very specific moment and reality.
The camera starts out trailing closely behind this film’s protagonist, a man roaming the halls of a nondescript hospital (aren’t they all?). Rather than hyper-movement, disorienting swoops or quick cuts, this film chooses to hold onto the present moment as it plays out in real time. The camera focuses in and out on our subject, as well as the things he sees pass him by. You quickly get the sense that the film is less about what we see than how we see it.
The clinical hums and beeps you’d expect from a hospital appear in and out, reminding us that for many in this space, life and death is continually hanging in the balance. Our male subject pauses, turns, goes back and forth. We’re so closely intertwined with his perspective that we start to forget what hall we’re in (and if it’s the same one or not). Realistic, though heightened, soundscapes continue to follow us. The hospital as captured by Ramon and the creative team manages to feel oppressive in its space but zen-like and peaceful in its timbre.
When he eventually reaches the room of the person he’s there to see, the camera goes static. He’s stopped moving and so have we. We contemplate his breaths, and then are shocked back into some kind of awakening as he takes a deep breath and looks at the one he seems afraid to see.
MUSIC FOR HOSPITALS, like HUMONGOUS!, finds a unique way of escape out of hard realities. For director Aya Kawazoe, it came in dream logic, jumping miraculously into new spaces. For Irene Gil Ramon, it’s in absorbing one’s self in a new natural space, getting feedback from new environments.
Our character puts on earbuds and plays a light, ethereal piece of music. Suddenly he’s activating his body in a new way. We see him doing light footwork against the stark, linoleum flooring. Brilliantly, his exiting of the hospital in the background becomes juxtaposed against an empty wheelchair in the foreground.
He’s not just leaving behind whoever he was there to see, but he’s left behind that feeling of dooming determinism in the hospital, that feeling we get when we feel we’ve somehow lost all agency over our lives. While HUMONGOUS! chooses for its climax to move rapidly, full of texture and grainy filmic sensations, MUSIC FOR HOSPITALS ends slower and more contemplative than ever. We see our subject look to the skies, to the trees around, the camera bends and roves in the way a tree would do against the wind.
The end invites us to a new felt reality (that of nature and limitless expanse) while reminding us that we can still only experience it from our limited vantage point.
Both of these exciting contemporary short films play with form in ways that are as academic and rigorous as they are sincere and searching. Both directors have a highly-intentional relationship with the way we feel space and time, but express it in unique ways.
This is the power of short cinema today: capturing unique bolts of existential lightning in a bottle and preserving it for others to witness too.
You can watch HUMONGOUS! until this Friday through Le Cinéma Club.
MUSIC FOR HOSPITALS is available now to stream at Miniflix.TV.