Patrick T Murphy 2002

Clare Langan’s bleak but beautiful vision proposes the fragility of civilisation in the face of the indifferent might of nature. Issues of sublimity, memory and aloneness enrich her pieces but this intellectual engagement is only the after-shock to the affective tremors of our first encounter.

Darkness frames this new film from Clare Langan and sand pervades its every frame. Her location has moved from the eerie greens and blues of water and ice in the previous Forty Below to the browns and sepia of the desert. The opening sequence plays the graininess of the medium against graininess of sand, subject and method become one. Langan’s mise en scéne is not the creation of post production manipulations but of self-made
filters attached to the camera lens during the actual filming. Prisms and gels contort the subject into a vision distinct from and equal to the high tech enhancements of special effects in commercial cinema. The soundtrack, which moulds the emotional shape of a film scene, is predominantly the wind, the agent that also forms the shapeliness of the desert dunes.

Langan sets out with this sympathetic relationship of medium and subject to offer a simple narrative structure that meditates on memory and death. The figure in this film is a cypher, a device to provide scale to the immensity of the location and deliver us its poignant centre. The exterior scenes set the severity and isolation of the individual in relation to this hostile environment. Sky and sun and heat are not permitted and only
wind and sand are featured. We are familiar with this scene, the lost protagonist wandering in the desert. But this desert is not a confined entity, it is a moving and encompassing organism as suffocating and as deadly as the ice and water of its predecessor.

We first are introduced to its indifferent malevolence when our guide encounters the petrified forest, black trees submerged in arid sand, the weaker flora succumbing to a stronger adversary. Then onwards through buried railway tracks to urban devastation, the central post-apocalyptic scene of domesticity engulfed by the sands of time over time. A meditation on the frailty of our human existence, the transitory character of memory and the ephemeral nature of beauty itself.

This is Langan’s second film in a trilogy and the tones struck may be described as Romantic. Though it keeps the components of its nineteenth century antecedents it reverses them in a terrifying way. Frederich’s Alps and Bierstatdt’s Rockies provided the grand vistas for the thrill of the sublime. The artists choose them as perceptual vehicles in which to convey the sense of awe. Langan’s nature is in an altogether different category. It is malevolent and active, the Gaia goddess that revenges the neglect and exploitation wielded upon her over the past century. She is indifferent to our perception and invades the very platforms from which we once so safely appreciated her might.

Patrick T. Murphy,
Director of the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin