TIFF 2015: The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers
While I tend to hate spending too much time on describing a film in a review, I feel like I don’t have much of a choice with Ben Rivers’ The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (certainly one of the more memorable titles at TIFF this year, and a blessing for any writer trying to get their word count up). Part documentary, part fiction, and part adaptation of the Paul Bowles short story “A Distant Episode,” The Sky Trembles comprises of two distinct halves. In the first half, Rivers’ camera follows a director (Oliver Laxe) as he works on a new film in Morocco. The production looks a bit troubled, with some difficulty working with the cast and trying to get specific shots down. The director eventually flees the production to free himself, which kicks off the second half (and where the Bowles adaptation begins). After wandering around in a town he’s kidnapped by a group of men who beat him, cut out his tongue, and then force him to entertain them by dancing around in an outfit made entirely out of tin cans. Unable to speak, and reduced to a role that seems beneath a jester, the director goes mad as he’s eventually sold off by his kidnappers to someone else.
Fans of Ben Rivers’ previous work shouldn’t be too concerned over The Sky Trembles since it continues to show off his greatest strengths as a filmmaker. Shooting with 16mm film on location in Morocco, Rivers (who also does cinematography) provides plenty of hypnotizing compositions that highlight the make landscapes the most well-defined presence in the entire film. But the playfulness with form and minimal, diptych narrative will have varying levels of appeal to viewers, leaving people either engaged or bored out of their minds. I fall somewhere in the middle; I wasn’t particularly interested in Laxe’s troubles on and off set, but Rivers’ formal mastery is always impressive to watch. This is especially true in the film’s excellent finale, where Laxe finds himself alone and wandering a mazelike series of passageways before running off into the desert. The image of the protagonist hurtling himself into the vast, empty desert is a striking, sinister case of wish fulfillment. He may have gotten the freedom he wanted by abandoning his film, but there’s only one outcome where he’s going.