January 30, 2007
La Lunga Ombra, 2006
On the surface, Jon Jost's austere, somber, and uncompromisingly caustic improvisational rumination on the pall cast by the aftermath of 9/11 on the European consciousness, La Lunga Ombra seems an uncharacteristic departure from the intractable consciousness of middle America that pervade his early films - a post tragedy portrait that converges more towards claustrophobic, Bergmanesque angst rather than the transformative, post-apocalyptic, loss of innocence grief that its conceptual framework would seem to suggest. Loosely structured around the lives and mundane gestures of a trio of close knit friends - a literary figure (Eliana Miglio) (whose agency appears to be in the process of publishing a photo-essay journal on the faces of colonial-era terrorism) and a television producer (Simonetta Gianfelici) who retreat to a remote, off-season seaside cabin in order to tend to a mutual friend, Anna's (Agnese Nano) emotional crisis and ensuing depression after being unexpectedly abandoned by her cruel (and perhaps abusive) husband - the film is also a provocative, broader exposition on the intangible, often corrosive collateral damage of psychological warfare and demoralization.
Intercutting the quotidian rituals of women in the stasis of their isolation (as they alternately attempt to console Anna by lending a sympathetic ear as she struggles to articulate her sense of loss, distracting her thoughts with idle conversation and whimsical parlor games, and encouraging her to reclaim her identity by returning to youthful pursuits) with textural and increasingly abstract archival footage from acts of terrorism, Jost reinforces an atmosphere of disjunction between characters and context that, in retrospect, perhaps reveals the underlying separation between action and consequence that pervades the film. A videotaped interview with a businessman recounting his experience while working in postwar Afghanistan alludes to this bifurcation when he describes his observation of the absence of everyday interaction between men and women in contemporary, post-Taliban Afghan society, a culturally enabled separation that leads to a certain level displaced intimacy not usually found in patriarchal cultures.
Conversely, the friends' hermetic retreat also becomes a form of artificial segregation - this time, from the community of men - where their interaction is relegated to the margins (represented only as distant photographs hanging from walls or leafed through in books (uncoincidentally, as symbols of warfare or violence), or existing in the periphery as fire wood vendors, technicians, or photographers). However, inasmuch as instinctual regression serves as a defense mechanism against inflicted wounds, it also exposes the myopia of victimization. In a sense, this defensive retreat towards isolation - and in particular, a self-imposed isolation in order to reinforce a sense of solidarity and foster moral support - not only illustrates the core of human nature's response to trauma, but also introduces the idea of the women's private turmoil as a microcosm of post 9/11 consciousness where grief, loss, fear, and confusion have invariably given way, not only to isolationism, self-righteousness, and intransigence, but more importantly, to a self-perpetuating moral contamination and spiritual inertia that continues to fester long after the crisis has subsided. Moreover, by incorporating granular and pixellated images from the World Trade Center attack that appear increasingly impressionistic and decontextualized (paradoxically creating an inverse proportionality between the distance to the image and its resolution), the juxtaposition becomes a potent metaphor for the abstraction inherent in the psychology of terrorism, where effectiveness is measured, not in conveying graphic realism or maximized casualty, but in the manipulation of public sentiment through the global domination of media images. It is this quest for sensationalism and media occupation that is ultimately encapsulated by the controversial inclusion of a gruesome and desensitizing ritual execution footage taken in postwar Iraq that concludes the film - a grim and sobering reminder of society's own implication in the creation of the spectacle, in the systematic corruption of its own soul.