Dir. Ivan Sen (2010, Australia, 84 mins.)
Dreamland is aptly titled; watching the film is much like watching a dream, albeit someone else’s dream. I make this distinction because, whist a dreamer instinctively knows what is happening in a dream without explanation, someone else trying to watch the same dream would be lost. This is the feeling we get watching Dreamland, though I suspect that director Ivan Sen has deliberately designed his film to make us feel this way.
Shot in black and white and containing little dialogue, Dreamland feels like an art film. There are some title cards to identify extraterrestrial highway and area 51, but, for the most part, this is a film without language. Narrative is implied but not enunciated – in fact, without benefit of a synopsis, the film’s plot might elude its audience. Eschewing words and attempting to communicate using mostly images is very experimental; perhaps arming an audience with a synopsis ruins the experiment. I did watch Dreamland after reading a synopsis, and now I find myself wishing that I had read nothing beforehand.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Dreamland places the onus of communication upon images rather than words, the cinematography of this film is fantastic. I use the word ‘fantastic’ not as a glib synonym for ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ (thought the cinematography is certainly also those things), but according to its actual definition: something imaginative, exotic, and removed from reality. Sen’s black and white portrayal of the Nevada desert – and of a man’s deep and profound loneliness and alienation – is imaginative, exotic, and removed from reality. This is augmented with footage from NASA (including exceptional video of the sun’s surface) that take us further into a place far removed from our reality.
Dreamland will confound more viewers than it informs. There is no getting around the fact that art films usually only appeal to a select group of people, or around the fact that art films are challenging. This being said, Dreamland is a worthwhile challenge.
(Dreamland will be playing at imagineNATIVE in Toronto on October twenty-first. Tickets are available online or in person.)