Aleph (2021) - Iva Radivojević
"Are we being watched? Are we being?"
An ambitious and immersive travelogue with metaphysical aims that is messy yet intoxicating, Aleph won me over more than not due to its hypnotic formal arrangements and intentions rooted in exploring the essence of being detached from external social structures. Existential longing, cultural specificity, and the universality of the human condition are explored through a meditative mode of investigation that sometimes divulges too much into pedantic notions of understanding that undercut its more extraordinary elements rooted in the recognition that we, as human beings, can never fully comprehend or understand life itself. At its best Aleph finds comfort and acceptance in the great unknown, illustrating the great illusion of modernity and the false reality that technological innovation and societal notions of progress have transcended the elemental and metaphysical. One aspect of Aleph that worked exceptionally well for me is its ability to encapture one of the core tenets of existential longing. Traversing various individuals and their distinct circumstances and expressivity, Aleph exhibits the universality of the great unknown and feelings of insignificance we all often have felt - an individualistic response to a world in which control is largely an illusion. How we individual agents in this grand system that is unquantifiable and unattainable respond in different ways is well-rendered. For one of the characters, a numbness towards feeling and emotion enshrouds her perceptions of the world; for another affect and feeling become hyper-focused and ubiquitous to experience. This is where Aleph shines, its recognition of the multitude of ways in which we as cognitive entities engage with the universe and attempt to find some semblance of solace or meaning. Observational more than assured notions of seeing are what make this film work at its best; how it details the tenets of solitude - both the positive and negative - stood out to me. Solitude provides us the need for internal introspection but it also can detach us from primal necessities and impulses towards social engagement and interaction. The axis between inquiry and affect is obfuscated. The binaries we often construct as a way to find meaning are more often than not facile at best, and complete illusions at worst. Aleph often contradicts itself with some of its more pedantic moments - particularly struggling when it tethers itself to specific political or social circumstances of contemporary agitation. These moments of reflection and rumination are emotionally revealing but often too divergent from Aleph's more existential and boundless aims beyond the material. Aleph is flawed, messy, and emotive, and yet I found it to be largely compelling, more often than not transcending beyond the specificities of politics or culture to reach for a more expansive attempt at acceptance and understanding not bound by material reality.
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