Experimental British director Ken McMullen’s latest is a fiction-essay hybrid, a fiercely ambitious, wide-ranging meditation on cinema as dream machine and political weapon, set predominantly in Paris and scored by Michael Nyman. It’s also an occasionally awkward assemblage of elements.
There’s Dominique Pinon’s ponderous investigator, trailing a beautiful young journalist-actress who is obsessed with discovering if cinema can be dangerous – a question she puts to French philosopher Bernard Stiegler (as himself), recording him on a Nagra as he fires off aperçus on cinema, dreams and the unconscious.
Another young couple turn New Wave-style tricks round the city, while on some faraway coastline their incarcerated activist father intones shards of Shakespearean verse-wisdom. The whole film is broken up into sections bearing one-word titles and an apposite quote: references to Derrida, Freud, Godard, May 1968 and more abound.
McMullen seems bent on creating his own deconstructive and ‘dangerous’ cinema, throwing in meta-narrative, reflexive games and repeated disruptions of the image to undermine the investigator’s attempt to ‘fix’ meanings. But too often Stiegler’s insights come across as banal or sweeping – philosophy for beginners – and the attempt to embed those ideas cinematically feels stilted, self-conscious rather than unconscious, other perhaps than in one peculiar scene on a Parisian rooftop.
There’s also a curiously flat quality to the image, a fatal lack of energy and charge. A playful scene on a Seine tourist boat stands out: bathed in an uncharacteristically miraculous, silvery light, it nudges the film for once into a more mysterious realm.