QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM THE TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL
Sensory cinema is a double-edged experience, and it’s tremendously easy to get the recipe wrong and bore audiences to death. On one hand, sensory movies take you back to the essence of cinema, where you just marvel at the quality of the images and sounds. On the other hand, it alienates viewers very accustomed to having some sort of narrative. Films entirely devoid of an arc, a storyline or even dialogue, where moving pictures reign triumphantly, are few and far between. My favourite is still Sarunas Bartas’s The House (1997), one of the films that inspired me to create DMovies.
Awaken is far from a disappointment. Marketed as a United States/United Arab Emirates co-production, this is in reality as international as it gets. The images range from polar mountains to dense urban landscapes. The people include both the very young and the very old and wrinkly. Masks from different cultures are utilised to astounding results. Helicopters and drones are also used abundantly. Slow motion and timelapse are also pervasive. Some of the costumes and facial expressions (particularly of children) are rather extraordinary, and the epic instrumental music does sustain the narrative throughout.
My personal favourites were some underwater images of a swimming elephant (filmed from below, resembling a ballet) and a genuinely breathtaking aerial view of the Dubai, where the camera follows the motorway from above at night at a dizzying speed, making Madonna’s Ray of Light video feel like a gentle lullaby. The technical wizardry has to be commended.
The images are so colourful and vibrant that Awaken could easily be turned into 300 margarine commercials or 1,500 television vignettes, roughly. This may sound perfidious (sorry, I’m a journalist, sometimes I just can’t help it), yet I don’t mean it in a pejorative way. The film does hold together and hook you for its duration of 93 minutes.
Well, not everything is perfect. Some of the images are so highly saturated that they just look a little tacky. At times, the stars are so prominent that it feels like poorly executed CGI. The time lapse could have been used a little more frugally. And a horrible voiceover comes up three times in the film spewing some entirely empty and redundant platitude, making it look like a very cheap travel advert.
Still, I feel honoured and privileged to have watched Awaken in the cinema. This voyage through the planet would likely feel banal on a television screen. I was lucky enough to be in the 325-seater at the Scape Cinema of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, fully equipped with Image IMAXimum technology. That’s exactly what such festivals are for: showing dirty gems on a large cinema screen, exactly where they belong.
Awaken has just premiered at the 22nd Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival taking place right now, and it’s in the event’s Competition. DMovies is following the action live as a special guest.