QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM TALLINN
French directors Aurélien and Olivier Héraud’s The End (artificial fragments of humankind) (Lõpp. Inimkonna tehisfragmendid, 2023), opens with the onscreen notice, “The film you are about to see, was written by an artificial intelligence.” Whether AI could come up with something as out-there as this, one of the year’s most quirky films, is unlikely.
The title perfectly describes the film as a series of fragmented stories, which include Esther who appears to be controlled by a rabbit with its paw on a mouse, while Connie, is harassed by her boss. A strange shaman-like figure offers a woman seeking his wisdom a story that sounds like gobbledegook. A young man talks to his therapist about dark thoughts in which he strangles a woman, then there’s another woman kept awake by a storm. When her house is broken into, the call to the police becomes a strange exchange of messages, where it turns out they’re reading the same book about mushrooms.
The End conjures up the expectations that it’ll be absurd and surreal, and yet, it still manages to exceed these expectations. It’s impossible to know what to expect, because it has its own logic. The Héraud siblings are threading together disparate images and characters, that isn’t world building as much as it’s replicating dreams. The film playfully gives us an objective point-of-view on its often, absurd dream logic. We’re not seeing the film from the point-of-view of the dreamer; hence we’re trying to find logic in the narrative construction of what’s often illogical. Whoever’s mind these fragments are unfurling inside of, makes sense like any dream does in the moment, or maybe The End is comprised of a series of different people’s dreams.
Never-ending in their inventiveness and playfulness, the directors fill their film with moments whose strangeness tickles the audience. From the young girl who seeks spiritual guidance after killing her parents and is praised by the shaman, to Esther’s conversation with a talking rabbit. Then there’s the fluidity of transitions, with the camera tracking down a rabbit hole to exiting out of a car vent, or someone sitting on the toilet to a stream of tea pouring from spout of a teapot, even camera angles exaggerating a man walking home downhill. In another film, everything might have to make sense, but here, The End is liberated from logic or structural formalism, allowing for an enduring visual and narrative creativity.
Out of the absurd and surreal ambiguity, emerges a meta identity that echoes the control the filmmakers and performers. Running through many of the fragments is the nightmare of being controlled. Yet, The End will be remembered as a warped anthology of fragmented stories bleeding into one another.
The directors appeal to the audience’s curiosity, to uncover whether there’s method to the madness, or logic to be found in the seemingly illogical chaos. It asks for a different type of tolerance from its audience, by not laying down a traditional narrative, but instead embraces gamesmanship between filmmaker and audience. It might well be less about escaping the rabbit hole than waking up from the dream. But The End teases and compels us to find out if there’s a resolution or not. The question is whether Aurélien and Olivier Héraud are able to stay on the side of experimentation, or do they veer into indulgence. What is certain is that it’ll be accused of being both, inciting not only polarising reactions, but a curiosity that will position people on the fence.
THE END (Artificial Fragments of Humankind) just premiered in the Rebels With a Cause Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.