Film Review: ‘The Year of the Everlasting Storm’5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Featuring seven stories from seven auteurs from around the world, the film chronicles this unprecedented moment in time, and is a true love letter to the power of cinema and its storytellers.
Director: Jafar Panahi, Anthony Chen, Malik Vitthal, Dominga Sotomayor, David Lowery, Laura Poitras, Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Cast: Zhang Yu, Zhou Dongyu, Francisca Castillo, Rosa García-huidobro, Catherine Machovsky
Country: Iran, China, US, Chile, Thailand
Language: Farsi, Mandarin, English, Spanish, Thai
Runtime: 121 minutes
Seven auteurs from around the world present seven short films that meditate on the unprecedented chaos of the pandemic’s initial months. United under one broad premise, each presents an eclectic mix of moods and styles, coming together to detail remarkable introspective artistic reflections.
Jafar Panahi’s Life kicks off the anthology. He is, unfortunately, no stranger to filmmaking limited to one locale, having realised a similar concept in the rebellious This is Not a Film. Iggy, Panahi’s family pet iguana, returns to steal the show in the short, sharing the limelight with the filmmaker’s effortlessly charming mother. Although both elderly family figures are wary of each other, they eventually unite, together reflecting on what they will leave behind amidst these macabre times. Life is, by far, the collection’s strongest entry and a clear example of what makes Iranian cinema so compelling, bringing attention to the poetry which surrounds our lives with nothing more than a phone camera.
The intimate short is followed by Anthony Chen’s The Break Away, shifting to the epicentre of both the pandemic and a brewing divide between a married couple. He loses his job and constantly fumbles in his role as a caretaker to their young son. She works from home as a customer service officer while having to deal with her husband’s inadequacies and their son’s well-being. If the world could only choose to leave behind one film to commemorate this familiar narrative for the future, The Break Away has to be in the running with its gorgeous cinematography and spectacular performances by Zhang Yu and Zhou Dongyu.
The theme of family is continued with Malik Vitthal’s experimental escapade Little Measures. An American father struggling with PTSD does his best to find ways to connect with his children, torn away from him due to a destructive fallout with their mother. His fight for their custody and the barrage of unknowns from the pandemic are told through narrations and energetic artistic flair. The use of vivid animations contrasting with his childrens’ distorted video calls, all peppered with the otherworldly sonic textures of beatmaker Flying Lotus, conjures a discordant world filled with equal parts agony and hope.
The anthology takes a hard turn left with Laura Poitras’ Terror Contagion, a pressing documentary about cyberweapons manufacturer NSO, who are allegedly using spyware to threaten journalists and activists with their personal information. Although it packs a shocking allegation, the short film details the investigations in an extremely dry fashion, filled with sprawling infographics and vague conversations that are as enticing to listen in as the next Zoom conference. Music heavyweight Brian Eno’s haunting soundtrack saves the short from a complete skip. The Year of the Everlasting Storm never truly recovers from the short’s plodding pace nor its ultimately nebulous links to the pandemic.
Dominga Sotomayor’s Sin Titulo, 2020 picks up the pieces. A mother and daughter duo journeys into a city besieged by the pandemic to visit the elder daughter’s newborn. The short features ethereal sceneries and a heartwarming side plot of a choir joining their individually recorded parts to form an uplifting whole. It’s a simple yet much-needed reminder of the stillness and emptiness we have overcome in the past year.
David Lowery’s Dig Up My Darling marks the anthology’s return to form. An elderly scavenger discovers a set of letters from a storage unit detailing the one-way correspondence between a father and his estranged son about the passing of his young brother due to a disease. In the letters pack a request: to dig up the boy’s body and return it to their family’s grave. Bone-chilling voiceover narrations are the scavenger’s only companion as she sets out to fulfil the request, creating a tense atmosphere that comes ever-so-close to horror. Yet, the short never reaches dread and instead coalesces into a surprisingly tear-jerking conclusion marked by a magnificently shot sequence.
The omnibus concludes with Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Night Colonies, an experimental effort that defies summation. Fluorescent lights surround a queen-sized bed on a stormy night, attracting all sorts of insects to the bedroom. There is no narrative. There is only chaos — albeit one with unwritten rules of harmony. Prey wanders side-by-side to their predators. All their buzzing join the uneasy chorus of the storm outside, occasionally broken up by audio snippets taken from democracy demonstrations in Bangkok in 2020.
It’s on this tempestuous and contemplative tone that concludes The Year of the Everlasting Storm’s solid collection of pandemic cinema. The anthology film is at its best when the pandemic is seen not just as a reason to stretch creative limits amidst safety guidelines, but when it interrogates what all of us ultimately stands to lose in these murky times.
The Year of the Everlasting Storm made its Asian premiere at the film programme ‘Still Somehow, It’s Illusions We Recall’ presented by the Singapore Art Museum in conjunction with the ongoing exhibition, ‘The Gift’. The film programme will subsequently feature works that similarly respond to the unprecedented isolation of our lives. For full details on the programme, including its free showcase of short films by acclaimed multidisciplinary artists, visit the Singapore Art Museum website here.
The Year of the Everlasting Storm will open in cinemas on 21 October at The Projector, with tickets going on sale 18 October.