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