Instructions on Parting. 2018. USA. Directed by Amy Jenkins. 93 mins.
Friday, February 16 at 7:00 PM
Museum of Modern Art, 18 West 54th Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, New York City
In the Jungle, 2017. USA. Directed by Stephanie Barber. 63 mins.
Saturday, February 17 at 7:30 PM; Sunday, February 18 at 7:30 PM
Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, between First and Second avenues, New York City.
Two feature-length, distinctly personal films are having their premieres in New York this week. Stephanie Barber’s In The Jungle, playing at Anthology, is a lushly imagined artifice in which a botanical researcher — all alone with her obsessively articulate thoughts — gradually unravels. Amy Jenkins’s Instructions On Parting, screening at MoMA, is a deeply moving, tautly poetic diary of multiple loss and transcendence.
Barber is an experimental writer/filmmaker/musician based in Baltimore. Like Daredevils (2013), which premiered at the New York Film Festival, In the Jungle is text-forward and highly formal in its narrative structure and cinematography, though considerably more playful in language and set design than the earlier movie. Here the botanist (Cricket Arrison) types an erudite monologue on an oversized, somewhat funky cardboard typewriter. A cutout animation of a tiger is projected behind, running alternately through a jungle and a succession of suburban living rooms. At critical moments an actual pantomime tiger, perhaps an animus, manifests, as if to lead her astray. Adding a crucial sense of dislocation, Barber’s sound design is a jagged collage of jungle and machine sounds. Several of her moody, self-produced songs also interact uncannily with the narrative mix.
Two stunning 360-degree camera rotations allow for real-time set changes, the second of which ushers in an extraordinary third act in which a short-wave DJ, played with inscrutable magnetism by M.C. Schmid (of the band Matmos), invites listeners to “come and rub your earlobes against my radio waves.” Playing Barber’s songs and taking listener calls he helps get the botanist through the night, finally at home in a jungle, it seems, of her own making.
Amy Jenkins is a multidisciplinary artist primarily known for pioneering installations in which precise, nuanced video projections haunt a sculptural ensemble. With Instructions On Parting, Jenkins presents a harrowing narrative that seems to have arisen naturally from an undaunted practice of documenting her life and surroundings. POV footage of Jenkins’s family, voicemail messages and hand-written diary notes convey the agony, sometimes banal, sometimes profound, of three overlapping deaths to cancer within the passing of a few seasons, even as she gives birth and nourishes a new life. Shot in Utah and rural New Hampshire, the film pays attention not only to intimate autobiography –– a positive pregnancy test; beautifully filmed sequences in which her hands explore the naked bodies of her dying loved ones, or search for their traces on objects left behind –– but equally to landscape, weather, and close-up imagery of the delicate savagery of nature. Accompanied by a fine, stark cello score by Noah Hoffeld, Jenkins’s stoic montage includes, for example, bleak winter snowstorms and a sequence of a spider capturing a butterfly, which comment without apology on the reaping of lives. But the seasons turn, and we also spy on hatchlings in a robins’ nest, a child breast-feeding by a lake, and the exuberant springtime renewal of a garden. Late in the film, Jenkins’s brother speculates that death will be like “taking off a tight shoe —changing costumes,” and this transcendent insight, folded into the film’s rich, rhythmic structure, stays with you long after the ending.print