A Hunger Artist on the Brink in The Sound of Insects

A sort of dark flipside to Danny Boyle’s life-affirming 127 Hours, Peter Liechti’s philosophically dour The Sound of Insects confronts the same aesthetic problem: how to make a narrative set over an extended period of time in an isolated enclave cinematically palatable. Avoiding Boyle’s riot of candy-colored visions and flashbacks, Liechti, in crafting his documentary about an anonymous man who fled to the Austrian wetlands to starve himself to death, pares his toolbox down to a handful of well-chosen images, the text of the journal the man left behind, and an ambient sound mix of chirping insects and guitar feedback. The director is also blessed with a more intelligent, reflective protagonist than Boyle was, even if he’s represented onscreen only by his words. Documenting the last two months of his life, the man’s journal is one non-believer’s alternately mundane and poetic account of the struggle with the physical and existential reality of death. Still, if Liechti’s film presents a skillful enough assemblage of image/music/text, without additional context surrounding its subject’s life, sharing the man’s final excruciating moments eventually devolves into an exercise in morbidity, an experience considerably more ponderous than profound.

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