Climate disasters sweep the screen in Nature by Artavazd Peleshian


Nature is a disaster film, but among many others: floods, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, cyclones. These events are shown in monumental black and white, but they are not locked into a story that is behind us. The hour-long view of nature in its most menacing is the work of veteran filmmaker Artavazd Peleshian, 83, an artist whose career dates back to the Soviet era. Nature is his first film in 30 years and took 15 years to make.

Andy Warhol has tinted and framed photographs of car accidents. Jean Luc Godard’s camera slowly moved past car wrecks in Weekend (1967), An Attack on Consumerism. Peleshian has the classic aesthetic and broad outlook of a previous generation. Its catastrophes are destructive, but they can be seductive, far more spectacular than fireworks, dazzling with hypnosis. Without any narration, the images are always more than eloquent.

It is perhaps more than a coincidence that his film was funded by the Fondation Cartier in Paris, the cultural arm of the jewelry house. Or that its New York Film Festival premiere came shortly after the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, described by painter Ford Crull, who was at Ground Zero, as “magnificently horrific.” Box office shows disaster can be exactly what commercial films want, romantic danger, as film critic David Thomson calls his next book on the genre Disaster My Love.

A still of Nature by Artavazd Peleshian. © Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art

Nature is a collage of found images, starting with radiant celestial views of mountains and landscapes at high altitude, above the clouds. This serenity doesn’t last long, however, as Peleshian’s lens shifts down, to show those crumbling landscapes, with volcanoes bursting like fireworks and lava flowing like rivers of paint. thick. Sometimes he adapts these images to Mozart or Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, sometimes to pieces by Shostakovich and Armenian composers. When it switches to scenes of floods and tidal waves, human figures enter the frame, tiny to the point of unreal as calamities overwhelm them.

We watch huge waves move slowly enough to be recognized by the people running away from them as unstoppable, and then we see these people being washed away with trees, boats and houses. These aren’t special effects, as far as it sounds. Compared to the instantly televised footage, the disasters raging right now – fires in California, a vast oil spill and a lava-spitting volcano in the Canary Islands –Nature may feel like they have heard from an Old Testament prophet.

A still of Nature by Artavazd Peleshian. © Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art

However, this is not cinema for voyeurs. Be prepared to turn away from the deadly tsunami streaks. It’s also not for an audience looking for fear twitches before they return to normal life when the lights come back on. Nature reminds us that few are spared when disasters strike, with the unspoken hint that far fewer will be spared from the man-made crises scientists predict.

Premiere now, as human-made calamities rush past anything as elegantly constructed as the Peleshian film, if that sounds like an august prequel to greater catastrophes. A silent jeremiah, but a jeremiah all the same.

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