AlberiMichelangelo Frammartino / 2013 / fourstar Tribeca

Active Ingredients: Installation setting; Surrounding sound
Side Effects: Video loop

[Alberi plays through April 27th at MoMA PS1, as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.]

Alberi (Trees) is a bewitching and mysterious cinematic art installation about nature and the nature of repetition. Playing in a large domed theater at New York’s MoMA PS1, the half-hour video loop envelops the audience in a lush, 360-degree soundscape of rustling leaves and snapping twigs. The vibrant and richly detailed greens and browns of the forest come alive—quite literally—in this strange and loving ode to the beauty of both nature and community.

Italian auteur Michelangelo Frammartino solidified his place on the international arthouse scene with 2010’s Le quattro volte, a similarly rustic film that chronicled the four states of a old farmer’s passing soul: human, animal, vegetable and mineral. Like that impressive film, Alberi is concerned with the connections between man and his surroundings, how both vibrate with the same cellular rhythms and under the same sky.

While I expected and was given the rapturous cinematic glow of nature in Alberi, I didn’t expect the film to be equally about mankind. About half of Frammartino’s loop is dedicated to the liveliness of the trees, but the other half focuses on a rural celebration in the southern hillside town of Satriano. The men of the town solemnly and wordlessly march into the woods, collect loose vines and sticks and march back into town draped head to toe in foliage. The film “concludes” (before looping again) with a joyous dance of man and nature in the town’s piazza.

Satriano’s rural celebration, like the life of the trees in the forest, depends on the seasonal cycles of nature. The same force of time and the same cycle of life animates both man and nature, Frammartino seems to say. The parallels he draws reminds me of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, another director who mysterious and beautifully evokes the interconnectedness of all realms of life. (The “tree men” in Alberi also have a similar, slightly comedic force as the “ape men” of Uncle Boonmee.)

While on paper the video loop of Alberi perfectly matches the film’s themes, the repetition is far from seamless. The film fades out and fades back in with a sound bridge to connect each end, but rather than a sense of endless continuation, the tactic artificially marks the film with a beginning and a conclusion. Despite the unsatisfying loop, Alberi beautifully uses the domed installation space to create a new and enveloping cinematic experience. The dome, like the film, is welcoming and impressive, and it houses a film of beauty, mystery, awe and joy.

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