Given my relatively vanilla cinematic taste to begin with, both the short film “Landscape of Absence” and feature film “<3” pushed my personal definition of art and proved a bit challenging to digest. Though I can’t say that either film left me wanting more, both exposed me to an unfamiliar genre and made for an interesting (to say the least) hour and a half.
“Landscape of Absence” can best be described as a thought-provoking immersion into a compilation of dialogue-less moments of iconic women in cinema. The film expertly utilizes a split screen to parallel the facial expressions and movements of a woman in one screen to the similar expressions or movements of the woman in the other. For instance, we watch Sigourney Weaver looking surprised in one of the “Alien” films, while simultaneously observing Frances McDormand’s face plastered with an almost identical expression in “Fargo.” Despite these parallels, for the majority of the film, most of the clips are seemingly unrelated and we find ourselves unsure of the connections between the women shown.
The visual component is the most captivating part of the film, but sound is emphasized more subtly. Interspersed snippets of simple, yet un-contextualized phrases like “where are we” are thrown in, but there is no actual dialogue. In the final moments of the film, a black title screen finally reveals the common thread we have been searching for over the past 10 minutes, projecting the message that none of the scenes selected “feature protagonists communicating with each other.” This minimal use of speaking, both in the overhead audio and in the clips from within the various movies shown, leads to the overall, cleverly demonstrated point that females on screen are not given enough of a voice.
Though a relevant criticism of on-screen gender biases, I couldn’t help but feel bothered by the lack of actresses of color depicted. Of the approximate 15 to 20 scenes with a white actress, there were no more than three with a Black actress. This illuminates the troubling reality that even within the noble cause of female representation, there is underrepresentation.
A complete change of pace from “Landscape of Absence,” if you couldn’t already infer from the title structure, “<3,” refuses to adhere to any form of convention. Boldly and explicitly exploring the intersection between the self, the digital world and drugs, this is a film that will make your eyes pop and your ears ring like you’re listening to a late 2000s Kesha hit.
Pill-popper, rapper and unfiltered millennial LNZ is like no other protagonist, if you can even call her a protagonist at all. She exists as more of a persona in a music video than anything else, swearing left and right in her electric, anger-fueled raps and accompanied by a trio of three practically incapacitated and prop-like men, who are later revealed to be her intended assassins (if this sounds weird and doesn’t really make sense, that’s because it was and it really doesn’t). You could say that the plot of the film is for LNZ to confront who is trying to kill her, but that would give the misleading impression that this film follows any sort of direction at all.
LNZ’s purpose as a character is not for audiences to connect to or understand. She is messy, debilitated by pills and completely unreliable. But perhaps that is the point of the film, to show the psychological power of hard drugs through LNZ’s unhinged nature and inhuman behaviors.
She basically lives in two different worlds (literally, there are scenes with her flying around in a recliner in outer space). Though difficult to definitely conclude from the chaotic and drug-infused aura that hangs over the entirety of the movie, there are seemingly two types of scenes in the film. On the one, there are moments from LNZ’s perspective, shot through a first-person, shaky camera. Then there are scenes where the audience is watching LNZ as they would a character in a video game, noticing the three <3s in the corner of the screen that represent her “lives.” Both portrayals of LNZ shape her into more of a thing than a human being and feed into the overall digitized vibe that surrounds the film.
It’s a mindbender in itself to try to distinguish how to feel after seeing this film. In the strangest way possible, the wide range of camera movements and perspectives, moody lighting and colors and interspersed animated elements somehow come together to create a final product that is undeniably artistic. That said, this film is a lot to take in one sitting. Ultimately, it’s an uncomfortable and borderline psychologically violating sensory overload that dumps a lot of drugs, heavy rap and obscenity into our laps and unfairly expects us to have a clue of what to do with it.