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STOCKHOLM 2019

Review: Charismatic Megafauna

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- Jesper Kurlandsky and Fredrik Wenzel co-helm an ambitiously assembled picture of the here and now on this very planet

Review: Charismatic Megafauna

Two prolific Swedish filmmakers, producer-cinematographer Jesper Kurlandsky (The Ape [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Avalon [+see also:
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trailer
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]
, Container) and cinematographer-director Fredrik Wenzel (Force Majeure [+see also:
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trailer
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile
]
, The Square [+see also:
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trailer
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile
]
, Burrowing [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
), have joined forces to co-direct a highly ambitious endeavour. The result, now entered into the 30th edition of the Stockholm International Film Festival, is an experimental documentary titled Charismatic Megafauna [+see also:
interview: Jesper Kurlandsky and Fredr…
film profile
]
.

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Akin to the works of Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi and the “Qatsi” trilogy) and to some extent recalling the more cosmic moods of Terrence Malick (notably Voyage of Time [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
), with a few United Colors of Benetton mixed in, Charismatic Megafauna begins with a quote by turn-of-the-last-century author John Muir: “The blind question ‘Why was it made?’ goes on and on with never a guess that, first of all, it might have been made for itself.” For the rest of this 70-minute journey, we’re on our own, narration-wise. Supplementing the carefully juxtaposed shots of spacely and Earthly matters, near and faraway places, and various animal and human forms, is the rich musical accompaniment courtesy of composer Anders Hillborg, who certainly is, for this project, what Philip Glass was for the Reggio one.

Despite the quote about being made for itself, there may be some further thoughts down the line. A contemplative tone permeates the movie throughout, as does an almost romantic score, thus decidedly contradicting the more stressful and austere visions and sounds of the Reggio trilogy. Through remnants of supernovas, gas and magma, we disembark on this very planet, with moss, forests and living organisms of increasing size and stature (a smug lizard, a stately cheetah and a pensive baboon are given good screen moments), and finally, we see humanity in all states of dress and in various locations. There’s the gathering of food in the South American rainforest and in the rice paddies of Asia, factory assembly lines (with humans and with robots), stock-market activity and laboratory research – most of it involving human interaction (even the robots need our monitoring). We encounter cityscapes, countryside and the people therein, dancing, in love, alone, in crowds, at home, without a home, with or without a family, young and old. In all, a pretty clear and fair picture of who we are, what we have and what we are doing, right here and right now.

The technical aspects are impeccably calibrated throughout, with pristine sound and camerawork (by Wenzel, a true master in his field). The musical score, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and featuring Royal Stockholm Philharmonic soprano Hannah Holgersson, could easily stand up on its own – in fact, listening without the pictures could easily imprint at least as strong an image on the mind. That said, Charismatic Megafauna should provide one of the season’s richest visual experiences, one that will suffer substantially if viewed on anything smaller than the big and glorious cinema screen.

Charismatic Megafauna was produced by Fasad with co-production by Film i Väst and SVT. Its sales are handled by Cinetic.

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