Sunday, 5 August 2012

Sound of My Voice, dir. Zal Batmanglij, wr. Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling, st. Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius

Anyone who saw Marling's astonishing sci-fi-infuséd drama Another Earth last year will be pleased to know this film, written alongside and very much a companion piece to AE, comprises more of the same intimate and intricate plotting peppered with mind-bending revelatory twistings. This time Marling plays Maggie, an enigmatic basement-ridden prophet apparently from fifty years into our future, who's recruiting a small band of followers in order to prepare them for oncoming hardships. Determined to expose her as the shamen they believe her to be, film-makers and lovers Peter and Lorna infiltrate her mysterious sessions and rituals, but it's not long before the search for truths within and without begin to take their toll. Marling apparently wrote this and Another Earth (both 2011 Sundance exciters) oscillating between floors with housemates Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij and there's a clear symbiosis between them. Both feature the same kind of low-buget hi-concept streamlined narrative, docu-like handheld camerawork that perpetuates an engaging immediacy and in AE's Rhoda and SOMV's Maggie, a central role of charismatic, nuanced delicacy and intensity. The film's success lies in eschewing bloating story-lines and jettisoning extraneous characters, bringing our focus to bear on pretty much a single narrative strand and the searing interaction between a triumvirate of fascinating characters. Cleverly, Batmanglij refrains from showing us much of the outside world the film inhabits, like the increasingly obsessing Peter, narrowing our view of what we see around us until there's just one maddeningly infuriating riddle in our path: Maggie. Is she for real? In one quite brilliant sequence, she's asked, or maybe goaded, by one of her followers into revealing something about where she's supposedly from. "Sing us a song from your time", they ask. The song she chooses is at first alien, then strangely familiar, until it hits you; it isn't a song from the future at all. Her group allow her to finish, their expressions mirroring ours, and then one of them confronts her with it. Her response is simple and sublime, and it's these little pieces of humble rhetoric that slowly, against our better intuitions, begin to sell the idea that maybe, she is indeed the traveller she says she is. Batmanglij and Marling have made a quiet cerebral little film that's chilling, exciting and come the end, curiously moving too. And I can't wait to see it again.