Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Re-considering Ben Russell

LET EACH ONE GO WHERE HE MAY (Ben Russell; USA/ Suriname; 2009)

Oh, how it's easy to get it wrong, sometimes. Often the first judgment of a film is reasonably accurate – you know whether the film is going to float into the upper echelons of your Pantheon Of Cinema Masterpieces, or descend into the flaming bowels of Screen Hell. But then sometimes one's judgment is addled, influenced, or off in a corner talking to itself maniacally.

Sometimes I get food rage. If I haven't eaten in a while, and I'm getting crazy-hungry, I become grumpy, loopy, and uncommunicative, all in one go. Pity the poor film that has encountered me when I'm in food-rage-mode. Other times, I've over-indulged on cinema, and the film suffers because I can no longer watch with happy ready-and-waiting eyes. In those moments, I feel jaded and cynical, contemplating my impending and necessary cold-turkey from cinema (maybe go for a run, or read a book, or have a beer, or tape my eyelids shut). And other times again, I just wasn't ready for what I was watching, and got all cross and annoyed for feeling stupid, and therefore got stroppy at the film, when in fact it probably wasn't all that bad.

I'm not sure which brain-fried example suits my experience of viewing Ben Russell's Let Each One Go Where He May about 4 months ago, but I feel like saying 'sorry' to the film now. I was too hard on it initially – I'm usually quite at home inside a film that let's me drift, but for some reason I felt underwhelmed by this film. But the dear wee thing has clung to my memory, yelling “love me!” Over time I've replayed many sequences again and again in my mind, and have found myself almost missing the film, as if I need to be there again. Tracking the movement from place to place of two Surinamese Maroon brothers, (from their home village, to the busy streets of the capital city Paramaribo, via a cramped bus journey, through to various work sites, and finally paddling on a river), the film is composed of thirteen long takes, and each take it exquisitely shot. In my haze when I first saw it, I took the camera-work for granted, but having watched some segments online recently, the movement of the camera is graceful, dynamic, and purposeful. One segment that haunts the memory starts with the camera tracking a path in a quarry, following no-one and nothing except the texture and undulations of the dirt-path itself. After having spent about an hour following the brothers, it's a strange sensation to be left alone on a path, feeling as if you're traversing it yourself. Russell lets this slow meander across the dirt-path last for what feels like three, maybe more, minutes before a worker finally crosses the path and we have someone to follow. In this section, one experiences a moment of encounter unlike any other in cinema.

If I ever get the chance to see this film again, I'm there, with bells and whistles and other bits'n'pieces on. I must remember to eat and sleep before the film, though.


  1. Happy New year Michael :)

    There were some amazing segments in this film which I wished were longer than each segment's 10 minute length. On the other hand, I found that in order to maintain that 10 minute length for each segment, there were moments which added nothing for me and I felt they were present simply to count down the clock. Still, the quarry segment you mention and the walk in the town around the bus were my favourites. In fact, as one of the brothers walked on the side of the road, I felt I had to look over my shoulder to avoid the oncoming traffic :)

  2. Happy New Year back atcha, Sachin, and apologies for the delay in putting up and responding to your post - I've been in the midst of moving house and have had either no time or no regular access to the internet for about two weeks. I tell ya, spontaneous house-moving is one heck of a way to bring in the new year!
    I like your analysis, and I'm extremely curious to see this again to see if my retrospective re-think on this film is overcooked or not. Y'see, I think it was those segments that 'counted down the clock' that lulled me towards sleep in my first viewing of this, and I've been wondering whether it will feel different with a more refreshed re-watch or not.
    I like your automatic response to the busy town scene! In fact, this scene provoked the best 'at-the-movie-theatre' moment of the year - I went to see the film with my partner, who really doesn't like this kind of non-narrative, contemplative, minimal style of cinema. After the first segment, she yawned and slowly fell asleep. Then after a few minutes of quiet slumber, she started to snore. I squeezed her shoulder to wake her up, and this moment of rousing her from sleep occurred around the town scene. She blinked wearily, looked up at the screen and said, rather audibly, "dear lord, are they STILL walking?" I'm sure I heard a snigger from the row behind us.