A contemporary odyssey

The eight Hivos Tiger Award Nominees had their own special day at the festival. Our Young Film Critics, Archana Nathan, Taylor Hess, Martin Kudlaç and Rowan El Shimi, saw the nominees and wrote reviews on all of them. 

"What do you plan to do tomorrow?" "Uh…Uh…." "Take your time." "I don't know…I don't know…I don't... remember tomorrow."

By IFFR Young Film Critic Archana Nathan

After a brutal assault, a man loses his memory. This is the conversation he has with his doctor a few days later. Later still, he is introduced to a lady and told she is his wife. He searches her face for signs that will tell him about who he was – or rather, who they were. "Do we have children?" he asks her poignantly. Fiona Tan's astounding cinematic essay History’s Future revolves around this man, played by Mark O'Halloran. Torn, confl icted and largely confused, we see him grappling with his devastating predicament. Finally, in search for answers, he leaves home one day on the pretext of buying a newspaper and embarks on a journey through different parts of Europe. He meets different kinds of people along the way – some from his past, and others from whom he seeks guidance for the future.

Visual metaphors

For Tan, this man is not just her film's central character. He is also a metaphor – one that attempts to describe the existential conundrum of contemporary Europe. As we see 'Missing Person' or 'MP' (as Mark's character is known later in the film) traversing the landscape of Western Europe, Tan interjects his narrative with found footage comprising shots of riots and austerity protests. Into this mix she adds snippets from interviews with people about their hopes and dreams for the future. She does not stop there, however. That Tan is an artist first and filmmaker later is not lost on the audience, particularly through the consistently rich frames she sets up, each containing confounding visual metaphors.

Sit up and look again

Straddling different layers of meaning and contemporary philosophical and political questions all at once, History's Future also deliberately rejects all conventional notions of cinematic structure. To give you an easy clue: the film begins with 'The End'. As Mark O'Halloran explains, Tan's is not a realist film and there is a certain cinematic and political vision that is at work through each scene. "Fiona takes the genre of the fi lm in general and throws it up in the air," he says. "The character I play in the fi lm is who he isn't. He isn’t anybody, basically. He both assumes characters along the way and allows others to project characters onto him. And this man meets characters who symbolize, let's say, scientific knowledge, hope, emotional vulnerability, etc. I think Fiona designed these encounters to show the strangely fragmented society we live in. We seem to be collapsing into the future, rather than marching gloriously into it. People don’t know who they are anymore. So when something like the refugee crisis happens, they don’t know how to collectively respond to it," he says.

A cinematic extension of Tan's larger artistic project, History's Future demands that we sit up and look again – at ourselves and at our society – and even tempts us to take on the larger existential questions. Tan also chooses an eclectic cast to tell her story, especially Manjinder Virk, Denis Lavant and Anne Consigny. In terms of genre, it plays with the epic poem by placing an amnesiac hero at the heart of it all. His weaknesses are his medical symptoms. His goal is self-discovery. And at the end of it all, he does not promise any answers. In fact, in a telling scene, MP says: "The future is a tale told by an idiot", almost as if to dismiss the quest altogether. If the epic poem as a genre were to be reinvented for contemporary times, History's Future could give us an inkling of the form this could take.