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'A World Turned Around' Review: The Blurry Memories of A Blood Tree

“A World Turned Around” is a unique 1:10 microfilm by Johanne Chagnon who, in addition to this film, has directed and produced four other films: A moment of Whiteness Just Before..., Promenade en forêt, Caring for Your Carcass, and Unearth the Landscape. Apart from directing and producing the films, she also acts as the writer, editor, and cinematographer of all her works as well, a fact that very well illustrates her strong interest in working solo.

When it comes to experimental cinema, there is usually this misconception that any film people are unable to understand is experimental. This is not true. Experimental films cover a wide range of practices and variety where "trial and error" is inevitable. That is, the director, as the head of the film, must be able to make whatever decisions she or he wishes freely, decisions that may not even seem logical, and assess the relevant outcome of the merging and blending of different concepts and methods with his or her own ideals. Therefore, the audience should be aware from the very beginning that their expectations may not fully match with what they see, and the film is not necessarily going to fulfill their all their expectations.

“A World Turned Around” is an experimental microfilm in the strict sense of the word. It will challenge all the expectations and presuppositions of the audience, inviting them to a form of understanding that depends on the extent of their active participation as the audience. Here, just as the filmmaker plays a key role in creating the atmosphere, the audience also play a crucial role in the process of interpreting, co-creating and understanding the film since what they are watching is not a ready-made, easy-to-grasp concept.

The environment of the film is a geometric one with a different image on each side. On the ground (at the bottom of the scene) there is a red image that depicts an interconnected texture in utter ambiguity. This image changes towards the end of the film and cracks and hues of blood appear on it, like a land that has dried up over time, and is a symbol of a barren desert. The ceiling of the scene (upper part of the image) remains black from beginning to end. This geometric environment functions as a theater stage, a stage on which a shockingly terrifying show is to be performed.

Director Johanne Chagnon

The film opens with the view of a vague human silhouette behind a thick curtain making rhythmic and indistinguishable movements. These movements are initially a kind of dance and sometimes give way to traces of blood flowing from the curtain, along with a blood-colored tree. The person on the other side of the curtain returns again, but this time dancing under the blood. A new image replaces the previous ones: Against a background of outlined trees, a bent down figure appears walking slowly whose gender becomes clear in the next image: a woman who now seems to be running away from something, or to be stuck somewhere rather than dancing. The change from the rhythmic movements of the beginning, to the character's slow walk through the forest, and now her being stuck behind a cracked texture, seems to be a metaphor for human life: birth and wriggles of the infancy, euphoria and the fleeting joy of the youth, wanderings and pilgrimages of the middle age, and finally encountering and admitting the inevitable destiny of mankind: annihilation. Now that the whole path is revealed to the audience, the thick curtain can be seen as a symbol of the womb, and the creature moving behind it can be a fetus.

Let us go back to the beginning of the film again. On both sides, left and right, there is a completely different image from the previous one. First, tree trunks are pictured under the snow and rain. The trunks of the trees are not covered with blood, of course, but their darkness, as well as the presence of rain, is indicative of a threatening gloomy atmosphere. These images are dissolved into a waterfall, and afterwards a meadow takes shape that has given its green color to the waterfall before fully emerging in it.

With the next image, the viewers’ conception of place becomes more comprehensive: animals grazing in the meadows. Hence, the image of pristine nature unfolds on both sides of the stage, and forests, waterfalls, meadows and animals are supposed to be the pieces of this puzzle. This, along with what the viewers see at the center of the scene (the woman behind the curtain) enables them to piece together their interpretation of the whole image.

Is mankind, confined to a cracked, bleeding, and closed environment, in opposition to pristine nature? Does the filmmaker believe that man, by his mere presence, has destroyed nature and has shed the blood of trees and is a serious threat to the lives of animals? Since “A World Turned Around” is an experimental film, and the filmmaker's language is indirect, metaphoric, and symbolic, no single interpretation can be certainly true, and that's exactly what the director wants: putting on an ambiguous show in which there is no place for certainty. Does the presence of man (symbolically red) contrast with that of nature (symbolically green)? Is man the loser of this eternal confrontation? A woman stuck behind a wall who seems to be asking for help suggests that there is no happy ending for man. In contrast with the human condition, there is the freedom and liberty for animals, animals that have bodies, lives, and actually exist. They are not caught behind a curtain or a wall. Or perhaps the notion the film is trying to communicate is that in the time of urban man’s confinement to walls and curtains, it is nature that freely exists, without self-made restraints.

Johanne Chagnon’s comparison between human captivity and animal freedom stimulates further considerations about man’s condition today. Are humans freer than animals with all their facilities, tools and equipment? Can they, as human beings trapped in a complicated situation, be free one day? The filmmaker raises questions that will occupy the mind for a long time after watching the film. This confrontation, which is beautifully and effectively expressed in this short duration, is one of the most complex and ancient human confrontations. This contrast, from the time humans lived with animals up to now that they have completely separated themselves from nature, reflects their very different destinies.

Watching the stunning microfilm “A World Turned Around” is strongly recommended to all those who are keen on thought-provoking films, films that recognize and address man’s fundamental issues and complications, and raise consequent questions.


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