Have you ever went to one of those modern art galleries? You know, one where an artwork may involve a string running down from the ceiling to about five feet above the ground with a colored pencil tied at the end of it, being blown ever so slightly by a fan, just enough to put small marks on the wall?
I’m not kidding, I’ve literally seen this at an art gallery.
If you ask the artist what this piece means, you might hear something along the lines of, “It means that art is art within itself, and no man can recreate it. It can only create itself. The art of my piece does not lie in what you see, but rather in the act of creating the piece in itself…”
Anima State, an entry in this year’s South Asian International Film Festival (which is taking place December 3rd thru the 8th in New York City), does not reach that level of pretentiousness, but it does reach that level of abstractness. What is this film about you ask? Well, let’s just say there’s not necessarily a real plot. I think(?) the plot is about a nameless man on the edge of his own sanity whose face is wrapped in bandages, and goes out on a killing spree for some unknown reason. However, the narrative does a COMPLETE 180 in the third act, almost discrediting everything we have just seen, in attempts to bring in a sort of meta-message context.
So… is the film any good? Well my lovelies, let’s take out our microscopes and find out, shall we?
I have never heard of director Hammad Khan, and apparently this is his second feature film. So when I saw this trailer, I was really excited. The opening quote was really provocative when it stated, “What does Pakistan mean? There is no god but Allah.” When it was followed with a gnarly dubstep sound track and images of some bad-ass wrapped in bandages taking out a bunch of dudes, the first thing that came to mind was Darkman… only with more social political commentary. And you know what? I was down with that! So I sat down and said, “Alrighty Mr. Khan, let me witness your awesome wrath.”
The cut of the film that I saw was incomplete in terms of color correction and sound mixing. So for the most part, everything was a bit bland. Bland lighting, bland colors, and a bland score. But, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, and say that this was due to the film still being a work in progress. I will say although, that the way the director framed certain shots was really interesting. It felt like I was watching a film modeled after a Winding Refn work at some points. The blocking of certain scenes had a strange kind of symmetry to them, so kudos for that. But other than this, there’s not much else to say on the technical level.
The acting was bizarre, but these performances suited the context of the film. It seemed like the people in this worlds were in a sort of dream state. This all made sense when I recalled the opening of the film. Early on, viewers are provided with the definition of the word anima, which means “the part of the psyche that is directed inward and in touch with the subconscious.” In addition, the other half of the title, state, is defined as “condition, situation, or country.” After considering these definitions and viewing the actors through this context, it is clear that the director intended for the cast to act in a lethargic, subconscious manner to demonstrate how they were reacting to the events around them. Overall, the cast is successful in this regard.
This is a tough one to review. The film was so far off from what I expected it to be, that for the first 20 minutes or so, I was completely lost. There was a point however, where viewers see the protagonist masturbate to a stick cricket game in a stranger’s house. At the moment when Pakistan won the world cup, he…well… let’s just say he “commended” their victory. When I saw this, everything made sense. This is an art house film made by a college student. The kind of film where professors will show in class, and have you write up a 12-page analysis of the Mise-en-scene and the symbolic meanings of each frame and dialogue. The kind of film where you would write up something like:
“When the protagonist was masturbating to the stick cricket game on television, in where he climaxed when Pakistan won the world cup, it’s as if the director was trying to portray how patriotism is essentially masturbating to the glorification of one’s country through the media, but that glorification doesn’t hold true to reality. However, there is something to be said that masturbation is also kind of a form of self-abuse…”
Was that actually the intention of the director? The truth is, I don’t know. What I do know is that it was most definitely heavy-handed in its political/social message, and even tried to squeeze in a commentary about the media, all having to do with the director’s opinion of what is happening in Pakistan. Now, that is a fine message, but when it gets to the point where the protagonist was literally staring directly in to the camera and preaching to me, the message is a bit too on the nose and the film begins to lose some of its artistic integrity.
The meaning of what he was trying to say was lost to me in translation, but I don’t mean that because of the language barrier, but rather in the manifestation of themes cinematically. It’s a film that might require more than one viewing to understand what he was trying to accomplish, but this is a film that is meant to be studied. It is not for your entertainment.
The film itself is disjointed and not cohesive, but that was what Hammad Khan was going for. There’s even a point where the protagonist buries his face into his hands and says, “This story doesn’t make any sense.” So if you’re in to analyzing abstract films with a message about politics and the media, and creating a thesis based on that analysis, then this film might be for you. As for me? I’d rather just pop in my copy of Darkman, and enter an Enema State.
On the classic ten-point scale, I’d give Anima State a six.
So OOUies, do you plan on watching this film? What are your thoughts about the trailer? Whatever they are, comment below, and let One of Us know! Also, if you’re in New York City this week and you have an interest in foreign films, be sure to check out the rest of the South Asian International Film Festival’s offerings here!