Our “Missed Madison” coverage continues with Eskil Vogt’s psychological, surrealist drama about a blind aspiring writer
Although the title of Eskil Vogt’s directorial debut conjures the sense of sight or lack thereof, Blind instantly bears all the hallmarks of his lucid literary collaborations with fellow Norwegian Joachim Trier in the past decade, emphasizing the trials and tribulations of urban Oslo writers. While the locations (and the steady two-shots in cafés) are patently familiar, Vogt finds new vitality in more provocative subject matter and shifts to a female lead by further expanding his experiments in the French New Wave idiom that began in Reprise (2006) and continued in the brilliant Oslo, 31 August (2011). Blind relies upon understated surrealist touches of the fluidity of human life, echoes of the transferable personality and narrative reminiscent of Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Red (1994), life and art imitating one another in the literal inclusion of Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask (1985) clips, and the composition/editing process that frequently descends into cyclical self-criticism.
Thirtysomething Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) plainly details, via voiceover narration, the discovery of her condition with a degree of separation but soon lays out the crux of her dilemma pertaining to memories before a degenerative eye disease left her in the dark. Cooped up in a spaciously sunny, if often solitary apartment, the trepidatious woman knows her perseverance hinges upon an active imagination to prevent further withering of her optic nerves. Laying bare her daydreams, Ingrid declares that “it’s not important what’s real as long as I can visualize it clearly.” And thus, like a self-aware soap opera, Blind aptly makes no immediate distinctions between characters. They are embellished by her voyeuristic concerns, particularly as Vogt withholds Ingrid’s name for half the film, allowing her no precedent over the film’s slyly tangential foci on the exploits of the male/female split of her personality. The male side is Einar, an introverted loner with a host of kinks and obsessions, who befriends Ingrid’s actual architect husband Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen). The yin to his yang is the woman in the adjacent building, Elin (Vera Vitali), a soul-searching single mother, who is the subject of Einar’s unhealthy fixation à la Rear Window (1954) or, more recently, The Double (2013).
Through the indecisive, shifting temporal details of character and environment, Vogt sharply gets at a uniquely human need for sensory stimulation that’s twisted into suspicion in the absence of visual proof. As Ingrid develops her intertwining narrative in tenuous stages — one may recall Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) in Adaptation. (2002) — the gender of Elin’s child changes in a single cut. A window booth in a café suddenly drifts past pedestrians as it transforms into a cable car, and Morten’s insignificant work e-mail fades into an explicit sex chat. Elin sheds her senses and personality traits to adopt the increasing insecurities of her creator. Perceptive fact becomes illusory conjecture. While Vogt pours light onto his character and vice versa, it is refracted in the form of the rhetorical; can the truth of a situation be determined if Ingrid is left to her assumptions without proof of her husband’s actions inside/outside the apartment? And, of course, no one left to their own devices assumes modestly; she histrionically speculates, which feeds directly into the act of revision in the process of writing itself, outlining the predictably chaotic confrontations.
Blind prides itself on imitating the amalgam of miniature brainstorming sessions with little resolve. Vogt chases something universal in our innate curiosity about twenty-first century communication in much the same way Kieślowski subtly pursues the parallel narratives between Valentine/The Judge and Auguste/Karin in Three Colors: Red. In a first-world society obsessed with productivity designed to perpetuate the physical distance between people, the mind is more susceptible to manipulation and encroaching fear of idleness and solitude. Vogt and cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis complement these themes with a bright color palette and Ingrid’s paleness of skin, indicative of overstimulation and ghost-like infirmity. Blind oddly ends on a witty, self-congratulatory comment that devalues the film’s own deepest, darkest insights into the inner self, but it nevertheless allows its audience to see the depths of a writer’s transitory points of view and the conflict of possibilities in the absence of visual confirmation.
Be sure to check out other Missed Madison Film Festival reviews throughout the day:
Chris Lay on Christmas, Again; Taylor Hanley on Buzzard; and James Kreul on The Tribe at Madison Film Forum.
Vincent Mollica on Spring at WUD Film Presents.
Four Star Video Podcast‘s discussion of Black Coal, Thin Ice.