An Uncomplicated Message through Visual Potency
Jennifer Baichwal’s Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, which has not yet received a UK wide release, is a meditative and thoughtful Environmental Documentary on mankind’s ignorance of our ingenuity to extract our world resources for use as commodity. The film is certainly effective in executing its poignant ideas, however, at times its subtlety and the patience it requires from the audience may leave some feeling a little cold…
The approach Anthropocene takes to the documentary format and specifically an environmental documentary is assuredly the correct one; it has the maturity to see past sensationalised and emotionally manipulative filmmaking, instead approaching the subject with real conviction in its calmness. Each sequence takes its time by placing trust in its tactile visual imagery to often independently propagate its messages.
Anthropocene has admirable aspirations and a fundamentally tasteful execution that certainly allows its messages to be up for your consideration rather than crude forced ingestion
Baichwal’s film is certainly globetrotting with the majority of the film being a series of independent vignettes from different cultures and communities across the world. Nicholas de Pencier’s cinematography provides each sequence with a real sense of uncompromising reality, providing tactile viewpoints on common environmental tropes.
Pencier’s cinematography provides real moments of visual cleverness, with one being an extended single take of a high-speed train tunnel enveloping the screen in a blur of movement, working to highlight the extent of mankind’s modification of the planet. Moments such as this do a good job at breaking up, what can feel like, a monotonous construction.
Alicia Vikander’s (Ex Machina, Tomb Raider) addition through voiceover supplies the film (rightly or wrongly) with a greater sense of legitimacy. She approaches the recordings, of context or thematic clues, with scintillating grace; each time her voiceover is utilised it provides a real sit-up and listen moment.
The voiceover undoubtedly provides much needed moments of reprieve but her addition to aid the visuals is sparingly used and perhaps could have been used more to provide some further connective tissue between the vignettes. As a singular complete mass these vignettes feel completely necessary, but their sequential order and individual inclusion at times felt random or at least unimportant.
In regards to the pacing, despite both Vikander’s voiceover and Pencier’s cinematography having their moments of real interest and the fact that I really applaud Baichwal’s tentative approach, there is still at times throughout the film a sense of flatness that this minimal and understated documentary style can easily succumb to. Of course, the level of tedium will vary viewer to viewer with some enjoying its wistful presentation but I can’t help but feel that the film’s length is slightly unjustified.
A film of this nature very much relies on its ending and your reaction to it; you patiently and subliminally absorb the imagery and sounds in the hope that it will all crystallise by the credits. Perhaps this is where my primary confliction lies with Anthropocene…
It has the maturity to see past sensationalised and emotionally manipulative filmmaking, instead approaching the subject with real conviction in its calmness
It certainly isn’t a series of thematically connected bits that just ends at the prescribed 90 minutes. It definitely has a clear conclusion, that I can intellectually rationalize, with a strikingly simple message that is definitely appropriate to convince an audience of in 90 minutes. Yet, nevertheless the ending left me emotionally dissatisfied and my reading of it felt all too forced because, for me, the central imagery that is setup at the beginning and retuned to at the denouement to imply the film’s substance feels far too designed and contrived.
Anthropocene has admirable aspirations and a fundamentally tasteful execution that certainly allows its messages to be up for your consideration rather than crude forced ingestion, but it flounders with its contrived vignette that bookends the film, which will leave many completely lost and underwhelmed with the film as a single entity.
In-article images courtesy of @climatecrisishub via instagram. No changes made to these images.
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