Blesok no. 57, November-December, 2007
Sex with Ghosts
With Before the Rain, Mančevski anticipates
With Dust, he juggles
With Shadows, he simulates
After the screening of Shadows, an older lady commented to the TV reporter: “I’m not sure if I understood the contents, but I liked the directing and the music”. One of Mančevski’s comments on his own movie was that Shadows was not made for the American audience at all, probably afraid that the sub-text on the Aegean Macedonians was not even remotely attractive as a story on the Amish people, for example, would be. However, even this lady (who is not American) and who probably goes to the movies from one opening night to another, still could not understand something of the story.
Basically, this is the simples and the most understandable of the three movies that Mančevski made. His “marketing trick”, amalgamation of the local exotic and cosmopolitism, is stressed the least in Shadows, but it also functions the best. The less he deals with the formal aspects of the story, the more Mančevski gains on the visual. We shall dare say that Shadows is his best movie from the craftsmanship aspect, consistent and almost without any flaws. The cooperation of the director with the cameraman Fabio Cianchetti and the production designer David Munns has evidently resulted in quality.
However, not everything that comes to our senses from the big screen can be assessed positively. We hear replicas, text, dialogues that often do not correspond the logic of the usual, but also film language, a strange linguistic syncretism (informal you, than formal you), which creates a distance to characters, scepticism to the logic of their behaviour. The next “inconsistency” which is mostly experienced as an attraction by the visitors, is the citation manner, to which Mančevski is “consequent” in all of his three movies; this time it has an elephant dose of borrowed scenes. Let us start from the most banal one Ghost of Jerry Zucker (transformation of man to a ghost and vice versa; the traffic accident of Patrick Swayze); via the cult Shining of Stanley Kubrick (the scenes with the grandma in the bathtub and the bird perspective of the car drive though the canyon); up to some details of Lynch’s movies (Twin Peaks) or Cronenberg (Naked Lunch) or Donner (Omen)…
Regardless of the angle from which Mančevski treats the souls and spirit, be it the oniristic of the Maya or Bantu people, or the trinity of St. Paul (spirit, soul, body), the thematic legitimacy is not questioned. Still, on behalf of the assumed dramaturgic tactility that the genre demands, Mančevski misses to touch (the viewer) deeper into the essence of the ethical message via the mystic.
Death, according to its entropic and cruelty is a “favourite” film category. The return from death is on the other side, the most creative human preoccupation, one of the most usable topics for screening for the film makers. Mančevski seems not to touch the essential sensors of the issue and does not manage to fully escape the traps of the “technical horror”. As if the aura of spirituality of Bergman’s Seventh Seal is missing, or the subtlety of Amenabár’s The Others. The absence of a richer dialogue corpus waters down the thematic strategy, and a good deal of the movie will be remembered by the slogan “sometimes the dead speak louder than the living” which is too poor of a rhetorical phrase for a movie with artistic aspirations. Event the “protective label” that this is the most personal movie of Mančevski does not grant him amnesty from his shortcomings in the area of dramaturgy.
And again, return to the soul. On purpose or not, Mančevski articulates Jung’s anima as a female sign of the unconscious with man. Therefore his second slogan, that Shadows is a movie about sex and death. In combination with his own (biographical) experience to which he refers, some scenes are very functional, regardless of the extent of empathy they can cause, we see that they are his only significant author stamp on the movie.
The search of Mančevski for shadows of the past, for the bones of the ancestors can be assessed as a successful personal adventure, made into a viewable but not a very suggestive film story. Maybe the problem is the selection of the genre, or…?
Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska