As more and more films arrive that have been made during the last tumultuous 18 months (and counting), it’s interesting to see the many approaches filmmakers have adopted in order to do their work. Some films, like the charming and surprisingly poignant Language Lessons, are filmed entirely on Zoom; in the case of In the Same Breath, filmmaker Nanfu Wang relied on a crack team of filmmakers on the ground in Wuhan, China, to send her back the footage they captured in the earliest days of the pandemic. In the case of The Year of the Everlasting Storm, seven diverse filmmakers contribute short vignettes that capture their take on this unique moment in time; the filmmakers include Oscar-winning documentarian Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) and American narrative filmmaker David Lowery (The Green Knight) as well as international auteurs like Anthony Chen (Ilo Ilo) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Rounding out the seven are Jafar Panahi, Dominga Sotomayor and Malik Vitthal.
Though a single film with a healthy runtime of nearly two hours, The Year of the Everlasting Storm plays more like a shorts program one might catch at your neighborhood film festival. The seven entries could not be more different, from filming style and aesthetic to subject matter and theme. That’s not to be taken as criticism by any means; each of the seven film segments is a fully developed narrative, and one imagines the freedom each filmmaker must have felt when they were asked to join the project. To get free rein as an artist is the dream, after all, and each of these filmmakers chooses to lean into their preferred styles and subject matters to explore not only how they’ve survived the pandemic, but sometimes what it’s taught them and how they hope to emerge from it.
Poitras’s segment, titled “Terror Contagion,” unsurprisingly delves into the world of technology, spyware and government over-reach as she investigates software infecting phones around the globe, ultimately making them completely vulnerable to whomever is on the other end of the hack. It’s sharp and unflinching, shining a light on the scrutiny journalists, activists and more have been placed under in recent years, often without them knowing. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Anthony Chen’s warm and heartrending “The Break Away,” a narrative short that features a family coping the best they can with lockdown. A young couple with a preschooler, she holds down a job from home working in telephone customer service while he struggles with an aimless existence confined to their small apartment. As they video chat with family and hear news of loved ones through text messages, tensions run high and each of their emotions is recognizable as one we’ve likely navigated this last year, too.
The film’s final segment is perhaps its most unsettling, but only because Weerasethakul does what Weerasethakul does. Known for meditative narratives like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and the upcoming Memoria, Weerasethakul’s segment, “Night Colonies,” is a dialogue-free meditation on the life swarming around us constantly. A series of shots in an empty bedroom at night, the fluorescent lights attract every species of flying insect and then some, all these creepy-crawlies getting into every corner of the white sheets and bright bulbs. It’s unsettling at first, thinking about just how many insects there are in this space humans should be able to inhabit pest free. And then, as he does, Weerasethakul allows his audience the space to think about what he’s showing them, and it all comes together.
As long as the pandemic drags on, art will be made from within it, art that explores it from every conceivable angle. The Year of the Everlasting Storm is perhaps one of the more unexpected approaches to processing what we’re all living through, but it is nevertheless something intriguing and noteworthy, as it allows these seven filmmakers to put their artistic lens onto this extraordinary time.
The Year of the Everlasting Storm is now playing in theaters, including Music Box Theatre.
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