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EEFF 2013: ‘Halley’ explicitly illustrates the idea of one’s own body as the enemy

EEFF 2013: ‘Halley’ explicitly illustrates the idea of one’s own body as the enemy

Halley

Halley
Directed by Sebastian Hofmann
Mexico, 2012

Flies in a jar, basking in filth: grimy, unclean, and uncaring for the dirt – clamouring for it, even. The scurrying bugs constitute natural life at its base level, most negligent and sickly. Their movements form the opening and closing shots of Halley, forming an opening statement that stays static to the very end, carried through with the action, or inaction, of the film’s subject. Nothing may ever change the immovable disposition of Alberto Trujillo’s Beto, a gym security guard flattened under the weight of an invisible black cloud of depression, permanently cursed with eyes and lips that are helpless but to look downwards. As the ‘beautiful’, sculpted bodies around him enhance their capabilities, his literally rots away from the inside; each night, he pulls maggots from his rotting torso, desperately applying embalming fluid to counteract any further decomposition.

Sebastian Hofmann’s debut feature is a brutal, uncomfortable entry into the Slow Cinema movement, a Cronenbergian body horror by way of a depressive Dumont detachment, subjectively stylised so as to distinguish itself from realist depictions of urban isolation. Beto’s consistently defeated demeanour may grate some viewers, though Hofmann expresses a melancholic pity for the man’s plight by remixing every day, throwaway sights as bizarre abnormalities. The gym sessions are filmed in slow-motion as if sinister alien rituals, a science-fiction flare of light illuminating their practice, with attention to bursting veins, sweaty brows and gurns.

A baby muddies its face with ice cream on the train. Men and women pull apart greasy slather of chicken skin with their hands in a fast-food restaurant. These people are at liberty to either spoil their body rotten or take great pains to improve it. Beto has neither the option nor the luxury. Hofmann’s camera almost teases the man. An unruly companion, it leads him on, pulling away, drifting in and out of focus.

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There’s one especially gruesome scene late on involving genital obliteration. It’s hardly gratuitous, however; in fact, the concept of the body working as one’s enemy, and gravitation towards the penis as the epicentre of anxiety, brings to mind Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, fondly immortalised in many a cinephile’s visual memory-bank for its cringe worthy marriage between a clitoris and a pair of scissors. In addition to the aforementioned directorial influences, Hofmann wilfully shares von Trier’s unfettered contempt for life itself, perceiving the natural world as something fundamentally sinister.

Appreciating Hofmann’s indulgence in a hopelessly depressive state will depend on viewer tolerance and wish to understand the despairing mind-set to which Beto belongs. Those seeking thought-provoking material or passable entertainment would do well to browse elsewhere. But for those of an open-minded disposition, it’s safe to say that Halley is one of the most incisive depictions of depression and social anxiety depicted onscreen for quite some time; a blank, confused stare at those whose compulsion to move is unwavering when for others, waking up in the morning is continually a searing disappointment.

Ed Doyle

East End Film Festival

Visit the official website of the East End Film Festival for more info.