TIFF 2015: Horizon
In a time when the punk aesthetic was increasingly resonant in art and pop culture, Icelandic painter Georg Guðni decided to pursue a different style: landscape depiction. He took to the misty plains and craggy highlands of his country, engaging in a kind of quiet, visual dialogue with the vast expanses. These conversations would be mentally tucked away, allowed to expand and stretch as the nature of Guðni’s memory dictated before being carefully spilled out on the canvas. For him, painting was a product of the mind, and through his strikingly minimalist work he was able to elevate the landscape “genre” beyond something stereotypically attributed to amateur “Sunday painters.”
Above all, Horizon is a tribute to Guðni, who passed away at the age of 50 in 2011. Brief descriptions of his early days as an artist fly by, and testimonials to the depth of his craft are provided by interviews with colleagues, professors and art historians, but the film is most interested in exploring the specifics of Guðni’s process and technique. Lucky for the audience, the insights come unfiltered, through the words of the painter himself.
The majority of Horizon is made up of lengthy scenes in Guðni’s studio, where he wanders from past paintings to old sketchbooks, breaking down the methods and philosophies of his artistry. On its face, the directness is a welcome approach, but the film’s monotonous, unbroken passivity and sheer lack of dynamism quickly yields something that is too dry to properly engage with. A handful of visual interludes gorgeously juxtapose Guðni’s work with the settings that inspired it, but even these sequences fail to imbue the film with some kind of cinematic sensibility. They eventually grow tiresome in their slideshow manner and redundant repetition.
Truly, this is a documentary made for hardcore art enthusiasts. The formal and structural elements are bland and Guðni isn’t all that mesmerizing a speaker, so we are left only with a flurry of highly technical discussions on painterly procedure and inspiration. Those who take an interest in such matters will likely be satisfied, but for the rest of the audience, Horizon may prove to be a dull, slightly alienating experience.