Release Date: Oct 20, 2023
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Godfrey Reggio is not your typical filmmaker. He makes movies that are experiences. After watching his doomsday-fable Once Within a Time, I feel that he’s trying to show to audiences where he thinks humanity is headed by using collages of varying images to express it. Nearly every technique that was developed during the early age of film is used here.
That’s because his visual narrative begins with us staring at an audience looking at a stage, and the curtain opens with Yggdrasill (Sussan Deyhim) singing to us like that opera singer Plavalaguna from The Fifth Element. To note, this film is neither a truly fantasy and nor is it really fully science fiction.
What’s next is a grove (presumably The Garden of Eden) where nine children are seen riding a carousel, and none of them look all that interested in grabbing from the tree of knowledge. More park imagery follows before the rest of the work gets wildly surreal. If I had to compare the wow factor of being in the Sistine Chapel to this film, this presentation comes close from a post-modern futurist level!
Thankfully, the core concept regarding the children will inherit the mess we left behind is easy to grasp. As for what they’ll have to clean up, that depends.
From a cinematic perspective, Reggio brings a sprinkle of familiar elements from Georges Méliès films to Fritz Lang and finally Stanley Kubrick. I’m sure the list doesn’t end there, as the influences are many. Since this filmmaker is taking viewers through a history of Earth, ranging from the Biblical creation myth to the Fall of Troy (with the Trojan Horse), there’s even more to follow! I see man’s attempt to reach the moon, and the images showing test tubes and syringes suggest eugenics too. There’s a lot to take in, and not everyone will get it. That’s because what’s presented is a barrage of visuals presented like a music video.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Once Within a Time is with the casting of Mike Tyson as “a prophet.” However, I’m not sure if he’s a monk or a pied piper. I really wanted to hear some dialogue but alas no. Although this work ends with an intertitle that asks “What age is this: the sunset or the dawn?” only the viewer can answer it.
As a result, this film’s ambiguous nature will have some viewers feeling lost. As for myself, what’s experienced felt like waking up from a strange harvest moon’s dream (sorry Shakespeare), and I’d need another view to make sense of it all. Some answers are given in the film’s making of documentary that’s available online, and I definitely recommend watching this first before viewing this work.
4 Stars out of 5