20 May 2024
read Freda Cooper's review for Eureka

Film Review – Eureka (2023)

read Freda Cooper's review for Eureka
They used to be called portmanteau or anthology films, but appear on screen so infrequently now that a label hardly seems necessary. Three or more shorter, complete films each with their own narrative, they would be linked together by common themes or characters to make a bigger whole. Tarantino made Pulp Fiction (1994) in the genre, yet it went all but unnoticed, proving how much it had fallen out of favour. And, although Argentinian director Lisandro Alonso gives it something of a soft revival in Eureka, the film’s structure is low on his list of priorities.

It starts in an old-fashioned, black-and-white western, with Viggo Mortensen as a sharp-shooting stranger arriving in a frontier town, looking for his daughter. Just as he finds her, the action shifts to a Native American reservation in the present day. Now in full colour, a local police officer helps out a woman stranded by the roadside with car trouble – and she’s also one of the actors from the first film. Having resolved that problem, the cop carries on with her usual work but at one location stops responding to her dispatcher’s increasingly concerned calls. It’s as if she’s disappeared. Her cousin, Sadie (Sadie Lapointe), is tired of life and visits her grandfather, asking for a potion to relieve her misery. It changes her into a large, spectacular bird and she flies through space and time to the Brazilian jungle, where she watches the member of a religious community kill somebody and escape, only to strangely disappear.

That’s about as much narrative as you get in Alonso’s dreamlike meditation. The connections between the shorter films are there in the shape of characters, vague similarities, and blurred memories, but his real interest is in contemplating the way indigenous populations are treated by so-called civilised ones. While they’re regarded as inferior, it’s made abundantly clear that they’re equally civilised, sophisticated, and cultured, just in a different way and one that demands respect. There’s never any sense of conclusion or resolution in the three sections: questions are never answered, mysteries are never solved and that’s because, in Alonso’s eyes, it wouldn’t make any difference to what he shows us on screen. Yet each time he moves from one story to the next, there’s always a surprise – especially when the B-western suddenly becomes part of the backdrop at the police officer’s home.

Visually, he never loses sight of the combined beauty and harshness of the landscapes, from the searing heat and rasping dust of the Wild West, to the white-out blizzards of South Dakota and the lush rainforest of Brazil, already being pillaged for its treasures. The indigenous people walk hand in hand with their environment and both are treated with equal disdain by outsiders who have only one interest – themselves. And the soundtrack of background noises and sounds generated by each location adds to the floating, mystic nature of what unfolds on the screen. More a visual experience than a film, Eureka is something of an endurance test for the mind but the end result is satisfaction mixed with lingering contemplation. In a film full of implicit questions, the answers are often down to us.

★★★★

In UK cinemas February 16th / Viggo Mortensen, Chiara Mastroianni, Alaina Clifford, Sadie Lapointe, Villbjork Malling, Adanilo, Marcio Marante, Luisa Cruz, Rafi Pitts / Dir: Lisandro Alonso / Sovereign Film Distribution / 15


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