(Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson & Galen Johnson, Canada, 2018)


Just as the same creative team’s The Green Fog (2017) milked its inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), Accidence departs from the basic set-up of the Master’s Rear Window (1954): looking voyeuristically into the dramas unfolding simultaneously in the diverse rooms of an apartment building – but without the fictive go-between of a central character spying from a facing room.

Here, it’s an unusual kind of ‘bionic camera’ eye. The closer and longer we peer through and with it, however, the stranger everything becomes …

Ever since André Bazin’s famous musings on the notion of democratic spectatorship, and Jacques Tati’s epic experiment with that notion in Playtime (1967), cineastes and cinephiles have dreamed of movies in which many things would happen on screen all at once – and viewers would be free to look at and concentrate on whatever they wished, to choose their own focus and hence “make their own film”.

It’s a dream that tantalises filmmakers, but also one that can easily disappoint viewers. What film has ever truly been absolutely open and democratic – yet remained coherent and shaped enough to still be a rewarding experience per se? It’s tempting to flee the fantasy of the “open work” and return to the comfort of a classically well-made movie … The history of film criticism tends to dance nervously between these options, alternately elated and jaded.

In Accidence, Maddin and the Johnsons both grant that Utopian wish of screen-democracy, while ingeniously frustrating it. So, they have their meta-cinematic cake and eat it, too – all in a brisk, busy nine minutes (contrary to The Green Fog, which stretched itself somewhat laboriously to 63).

This is due to the mobile framing mechanism that forever seems to be zooming from the panoramic long-shot into something significant, but then pulling out; the odd discrepancies and distortions that pile up in our addled field of vision; and, ultimately, the endless-looping effect that places all in doubt.

Recursivity, mark of the avant-garde! But also of Raúl Ruiz, or of the British horror film Dead of Night (1945) …

Thanks to the witty combination of analogue and digital resources, and a divertingly askew soundtrack, Accidence begs to be watched over and over again.

© Adrian Martin September 2018

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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