Get a jump on end-times living with Nicolas Steiner’s widescreen documentary astonishment Above and Below, a lyrical study of five Americans surviving at the sun-blasted fringes of civilization.
Steiner introduces Cindy and Rick, a pair of adult lovers huddled in the drainage tunnels beneath Las Vegas, avoiding floods and the sun, cooking hot dogs with a blue-flame torch. Then there’s Dave, a vet and musician holed up in an Inland Empire concrete bunker he’s rigged up to run on solar power. He bangs his drums, never misses a sunrise, and reads to the camera his thoughtful response to a Facebook message in which his estranged wife suggests they at last finalize their divorce. Finally there’s April, a participant in the Mars Desert Research Station project, the Utah facility where volunteers live as they might on a Martian mission, in space suits and lightweight habitats.
Some of Steiner’s people are, technically, homeless; all attest, in performative interviews, to feeling adrift but also at home. April speaks with passion about our need to learn to live without burdening the planet; Cindy says that her kids wish she’d abandon Rick and come home to Missouri, a choice she’s not going to make. Choice is an abiding theme here: These people haven’t all chosen to be homeless, exactly, but they are choosing how to make that life a life of meaning.
The film is a wonder of desert skies, slick tunnels, bumptious fence- and wall-climbing, and occasional staged reveries. Dozens of ping-pong balls rolling through the drainage tunnel, carried along with the wash, are a vision as thrilling as the occasional starscapes. Art and beauty will outlast civilization.
Above and Below
Directed by Nicolas Steiner
Opens April 15, Village East Cinema
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 14, 2016