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.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 22, 2010