“It is the tunnel vision, the burrowing into specific obsessions, of In Passing’s individual filmmakers, combined with the broad scope of the collaborative form, that constitute the film’s unique allure.”
In Passing is the first feature-length film (75 minutes) inspired by the Remodernist film manifesto (although Bela Tarr alluded to the manifesto in the production notes for his The Turin Horse at the Berlinale last year). As such, In Passing constitutes a kind of manifesto itself; an opening gambit rather than a checkmate. Remodernism, in short, is a rejection of what is perceived as the cynicism of postmodernism and its endless recycling of images and tropes, divorced from context, urgency, and pungency. The movement’s roots are in painting (and the notion that an artist has to paint, as opposed to creating conceptual works), but the its ideals have been transplanted to film by Jesse Richards, who wrote the Remodernist film manifesto in 2008 and produced In Passing.
The film begins in a strangely stilted fashion; there’s something about cinematic depictions of waking and going about a morning routine that never quite works. But then we see our protagonist at breakfast; the framing emphasises the table, crudely cutting off her face. A tiny crustacean begins crawling around on the table. Suddenly, an element of the uncanny, of the unpredictable, has been introduced. This opening strategy recalls Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb’s This Is Not a Film, which also has a stilted beginning; it’s a solipsistic self -portrait of Panahi until the director realises he just isn’t inspired, and so calls his friend Mirtahmasb, asking him to bring his camera and participate. From here on out there is a marked difference in the way the film feels. This Is Not a Film and In Passing are two of the most recent celebrations of film as collaborative art, in an era when auteurist assumptions still run deep.
In one sequence, two men meet in a park. One is hiring the other to collect a debt for him. They discuss the details, and it becomes clear that the man doesn’t really care what his hired hand does in order to recover the money; his debtor might be beaten, even killed. We watch their conversation unfold at a distance, as though eavesdropping from the undergrowth. This is one of many hints at the more disturbing themes that lurk beneath Remodernism’s purported aim to restore beauty to the forefront of the filmmaker’s agenda. Toward the end of the film, there’s another sequence that deals with the transience of life directly. A poignant portrait of an elderly man, confined to his bed. It’s bookended by 16mm footage of a young, handsome man, his clothes and car emblematic of a certain kind of nostalgic Americana.
At the risk of breaking a butterfly on a wheel, it’s worth demonstrating just how much of an achievement In Passing is by contrasting it with the recent, Ridley Scott-produced Life in a Day. The producers canvassed the public for footage that would demonstrate the rich variety of life on the planet in a single day. Falling over itself to “celebrate” life, it merely reduces it to a series of stock images that have always already been plundered in stock commercials. It is the tunnel vision, the burrowing into specific obsessions, of In Passing‘s individual filmmakers, combined with the broad scope of the collaborative form, that constitute the film’s unique allure.