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January 28, 2019

Slamdance 2019: Impetus


Jennifer Alleyn - 2019
La Distributrice de Films

While checking on the credits for Impetus, I noticed that the Internet Movie Database wrongly categorized the film as a documentary. Jennifer Alleyn makes it clear in the closing credits that her film is a work of fiction. It is easy to see why there might be some confusion because of the way Alleyn has constructed her film.

The work might be best summarized as a meditation on love and loss. There is no conventional structure here. Partially first person documentary, partially dramatic narrative, partially abstract montages of nature, an intuitive kind of filmmaking. Just as Alleyn plays with notions of visual language, the film is bilingual switching between French and English. Alleyn herself appears as a filmmaker attempting to complete a film, dealing with her own personal loss of a loved one, followed by the loss of an actor who leaves in mid-production for a more lucrative gig.

One of the sources of inspiration of Alleyn was Canadian filmmaker Michel Brault. Now something of a visual cliche, but Brault was a pioneer in the use of hand-held cinematography, part of what was a new style of documentary introduced in the late 1950s as Direct Cinema. Alleyn does her own version, on the streets and subways of New York City. Alleyn appears to have a particular joy in filming the various street performers, a Sinatra style chanteur in a small park, people spontaneously dancing to a musician in a subway station, a young man using a subway pole for a performance.

There are also more formally composed moments. The film opens with the overwhelming whiteness of winter in Montreal. It is as if there is nothing but ice and snow. There are a series of renaissance era portraits and paintings. Alleyn frequently makes use of reflected surfaces within a shot. One of my favorite moments is of actress Pascale Bussieres performing a solo dance, a response to a boogie by John Reissner. Bussieres is effectively doubled as the camera observes her from a distance so that she is also seen on the glass surface of a wall on the right side of the frame.

It may be fitting that I saw Impetus a day after the death of Jonas Mekas. Above all, Mekas championed what could be described as personal filmmaking. I would hardly expect that those who watch Impetus will respond to the film in whole or in part in quite the same way. Just as the film is a hybrid of narrative and non-narrative filmmaking, it is by turns disorienting, comic, frustrating, and beautiful.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 28, 2019 08:57 AM