“Vague ideas must be confronted with clear images,” famously reads a bit of graffiti in Godard’s La chinoise, but such clarity is missing in Where is Where?, Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s own gloss on midcentury French unrest. The visual artist confronts her abstract dialogue about God, guilt, and time with imagery that doesn’t often illuminate much more than itself. Splitting the film screen into four quadrants, Ahtila arranges soldiers climbing a hill into a Bergmanian dance-of-death, works in newsreel footage of the Algerian War, and, in the film’s dramatic crux, captures two Arab boys stabbing a French friend to death in the desert, while, in another corner of the screen, a bulldozer dozes obliviously on. The film moves from evocative, but frustratingly abstract early sections—n which allegorical figures like the Poet and Death embark on some sort of inscrutable journey into the past—into an all-too-concrete final segment in which the implications of the central stabbing (the boys decided to murder their friend since “the Europeans want to kill Arabs”) are hastily hashed out. Ultimately, the film attempts to confront its vague ideas with a self-contained bit of narrative, whose neat rendering clashes with, but fails to make sense of, the messiness of what came before.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 29, 2009