We Are The City succeed in both filmmaking and music

“It feels like happiness. It feels like remembering faces and words. It feels like water. It feels like electricity. It sounds like a humming fridge.” What is the girl who utters these words after every chapter of Violent describing?

In the film’s twist ending, we finally discover what is lying beneath the surface of this emotive film’s plot. However, Violent is aiming for an effect that is more visceral than intellectual; it’s how the film goes about achieving this feelings that makes it so fascinating.

Violent, currently being featured in Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival at the Pacific Cinematheque, is structured like a musical composition. This makes sense given that Vancouver band We Are the City are behind it. Drummer Andrew Huculiak is credited as director, but he insists that this was a collaborative work with other members of the production company Amazing Factory. The band went to Norway to make an album and an accompanying short film. They came back with their 2013 album, also titled Violent, and this feature film which is spoken entirely in Norwegian — a language none of the band members understand.

 

The film has verses linked together by a chorus, and a melody that ends the film where it began. It opens with an image of a car driving over a bridge with a power plant in the background — a visual motif that appears in every movement of the film, linking it all together.

The film’s five verses focus on five different people remembered and loved by a young woman named Dagny, who is stranded in a small town. The chorus is the visual depiction of the girl’s subjective experience during pivotal events that cause her to remember the narrative portions of the film.

The movie is less interested in telling a story than evoking a feeling, and often focuses on mood rather than plot. Through this mood, we learn about the experience of the protagonist. The film’s choruses resembles the experimental works of filmmaker Stan Brakhage, while the verses it appears to be inspired by the narrative realism of films such as Oslo, August 31st. The melding of these two styles of filmmaking makes this a staggering directorial debut.

The visual style of Violent shifts from the typical wide compositions and lengthy takes associated with narrative realism to the enigmatic imagery typical of experimental works. The film is told through Dagny’s point of view, and what she chooses for us to see tells us about her inner thoughts. The film’s naturalistic tone and unobtrusive direction shows us her behaviour before we experience her perception through the discontinuous editing and abstract choruses of the visuals — this includes surreal floating objects, and what appears to be a combination of light and scratch marks on film.

Instead of being purely reflexive like most experimental works, Violent uses its abstract imagery (with some staggering visual effects and an ominous musical score) to explore a subjective feeling. Admittedly, this has been done before, such as in the hyperdrive sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey; however, it has never been such an integral part of any film’s storytelling that I’ve seen. 

Violent effectively captures a certain feeling by using experimental techniques without sacrificing its conventional narrative style. Through sights and sounds Violent does what few films could hope to achieve: it gives us a gateway into an experience we could have never felt without a white screen, a projector, and surround sound.

Violent is screening January 10 at the Pacific Cinematheque. Visit thecinematheque.ca for more information.

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