Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ben Russell's Let Each One Go Where He May @ the Charles Theatre

Ben Russell's Let Each One Go Where He May
Monday, April 5 at 7pm
The Charles Theater

“This is how we’ve heard it: during slavery, there was hardly anything to eat. They would whip you until your ass was burning, then they would give you a bit of plain rice in a bowl. And the gods said, they said that this is no way for human beings to live. The gods would help them. ‘Let each one go where he may.’ So they ran.” - Lantifaya, Masiakiiki, Suriname, 1973

Let Each One Go Where He May is Russell’s stunning feature debut, a film that both partakes in and dismantles traditional ethnography, opts for mystery and natural beauty over annotation and artifice, and employs unconventional storytelling as a means toward historical remembrance. A rigorous, exquisite work with a structure at once defined and winding, the film traces the extensive journey of two unidentified brothers who venture from the outskirts of Paramaribo, Suriname over land and through rapids, past a Maroon village on the Upper Suriname River, in a rehearsal of the voyage undertaken by their ancestors who escaped from slavery at the hands of the Dutch 300 years prior. A path still traveled to this day, its changing topography bespeaks a diverse history of forced migration.

Shot almost entirely with a 16mm Steadicam rig in thirteen extended shots of nearly ten minutes each, Let Each One Go is strangely taut as it absorbs the rhythms and sounds of life, landscape and legacy. The camera acts as a third character, observing but also engaging in a deft dance with the two young men, following one then the other, circling, pursuing, leading, pausing, with sometimes disarming intimacy. Uncomfortably assuming its role as documenter, this disembodied, alternating point of view trails the film’s protagonists along dirt paths, onto a crammed, bobbing bus, through illegal gold mines and urban traffic, into the jungle and onto a motorboat, at last stumbling upon a rousing, ritualistic scene where the real ultimately challenges the film’s fiction.

In its cartographic portrayal of contemporary Saramaccan culture, Let Each One Go invites anachronism and myth-making to participate in the film’s daring conflation of history, its oscillations between re-enactment and record, its investigation of the gaze and cultural oppression and survival. Like a Rouchian ethno-fiction, the film leads the viewer not only on an extraordinary quest, but also into an inquiry on representation and the camera’s transformative powers.

- Andréa Picard, Toronto International Film Festival