(Lucrecia Martel, Austria/Argentina, 2019)


In his autobiography, the heroic whistleblower Edward Snowden warns that “the greatest danger still lies ahead, with the refinement of artificial intelligence capabilities, such as facial and pattern recognition”.


Lucrecia Martel mimics a typical automated process of pattern recognition in her 100-second trailer for the 2019 Viennale – but renders it strange, surreal and disquieting.  It can be viewed here. I suggest taking it in slowly, and repeatedly.


What central piece of found footage does Martel hurl against this AI machine? It is the famous “Psychiatric Interview” with an anonymous “Patient no. 18” filmed at UCLA in 1961, today viewed by 85 million people on YouTube.


In it, a young man (whose subsequent fate remains a secret) speaks deliberately and thoughtfully about his desire to “play the piano for people”; he is duly classified as a case of “negativism in a catatonic schizophrenic”.


Martel combines the man and his interviewer, loops eye movement and blurs mouth movement. She introduces flashes of other, associative images – an individual’s unconscious association, or a machinic algorithmic association, it is impossible to say any longer.


Inner and outer realms of subjectivity are blurred, for good and for ill. And all clinical definitions of mental ability and disability are put into the blender.


Meanwhile, Martel – a master of sound design – underscores everything with an ever-changing collage of musical selections that sits at the edge of our aural comprehension.


In short, the will of AI to control, sort and label everyone in the world is countered by a sublime act of audiovisual subversion by Martel. The mimicry of a malign system leads to its sly discombobulation. She manages to do a lot in 100 seconds.

MORE Martel: Zama

© Adrian Martin September 2019

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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