Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Closed circuit: You Are Here

A lecturer (R.D. Reid) stands before a projected image of rolling waves. He should like to instruct us in serenity and solitude. He warns us against the perils of allowing our eyes to follow the red dot darting across the screen, emanating from his laser pointer. The threat of the red dot isn’t specified, but the lecturer’s warning, stated at the very start of You Are Here, Toronto video artist Daniel Cockburn’s feature debut, serves as a reminder that there may still be something dangerous about taking instruction, submitting to direction, or simply watching a movie.

Such deliberately vague portent clings to every new realm of activity introduced in You Are Here: the discovery made by a bunch of people named Alan (not a typo) of a door where there should not be a door; the control centre where dispatchers give directions to individuals walking the city streets, emissaries whose trajectories are without apparent purpose save the avoidance of convergence; the prisoner (Anand Rajaram) who has pages of Chinese script shoved under the door and must then consult a voluminous text entitled What To Do If They Shove Chinese Writing Under The Door; the abandoned things appropriated by a self-appointed archivist (Tracy Wright), each containing recorded information, in varying formats, that may or may not add up to anything yet compel her to provide them with a home.

Each realm of activity, or thought experiment, constitutes a plastic component of You Are Here’s ornate circuitry—which is itself the film’s protagonist. At times this circuitry hints at a critique of technology’s promise to track and organize every last item in the world for posterity; at others it alludes to forms of interconnectivity that can only be understood once the individual (ie: one of those emissaries told not to interact with the other emissaries) rebels agains the dominant hegemony. Which is to say that You Are Here is playful, enigmatic and very cerebral. If the larger meaning strikes you as elusive, then you’ve just about got the point.

Press materials and clippings about the film keep invoking Jorge Luis Borges (though, given the film’s interest in found things and urban geography, I think Paul Auster is a more apt literary allusion) and Charlie Kaufman (though, given the film’s preoccupation with interlocking structures, I think Christopher Nolan is a more apt cinematic allusion), but such comparisons should come with one major caveat: each of these artists are storytellers (yes, Borges included), as engaged with narrative and character, with form and meaning, as they are with metaphor. You Are Here is fun, smart, inventive, and enjoyably puzzling—to be sure, I recommend it—it’s also pretty cold, and satisfies itself above all through the realization and careful arrangement of its concepts.

You Are Here is now playing at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox. It opens at Edmonton's Metro Cinema next Monday.

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