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Landscape:  Review from Budapest Independent Film Festival

Leonardo Nussenzveig’s short film Landscape or The Art of Finding God Through

Hard Work is a thought-provoking absurdist creation that captivates the audience

by its mellifluous flow.

Landscape consists of two parallel storylines: a visual one and a poetic one. The

visual story is the one we witness unfold on screen. It consists of two workers

(played by Ondrej Kubina and Vojtech Babista) who, using a simple wheelbarrow,

are tasked with the job of fertilizing a large field, owned by their boss (Petr

Kohlert), an older man sitting in a wheelchair, operated by a young assistant

(Dominik Benda). The poetic story is told only via voiceover. The filmmaker

superimposes Manoel de Barros’ poem “The Boy Carried Water in a Sieve” as the

main audio track overlaying the rural scenery. The film offers us rich substance

using as little as possible. Camerawork is strictly limited to linear scanning

movements. The editing is plain and simple: direct cuts with perfectly timed

reaction shots that play a major role in plot. Even the color palette is an effortless

mix of soothing green, black and white, and various shades of browns. Yet the film

succeeds to keep the audience interested in what’s happening for over ten

minutes relying on its good pacing and flow. The intertwining of the two storylines

(visual and poetic) is further enhanced when the filmmaker blends in an element

of the mythical into the plot. The classic Greek myth of King Midas whose touch

turned objects to gold is referenced in the second half of the film. It is this depth

of substance, contrasted with the simplicity of form, that highlights Nussenzveig’s

talent as a filmmaker. He manages to formulate a tightly packed film, brimming

with multiple philosophical issues such as social justice, environmentalism, and

power dynamics, and share his vision with an elegant but austere visual style.

L a n d s c a p e

Fi lm Review for

Dir: Leonardo Nussenzveig

The relationships between the film’s four main characters reveal many political

themes. The bare rural setting allows for crops and complications to flourish. The

scene where the two field workers meet their boss is excellently framed and

blocked. We see the boss sitting on his wheelchair, clearly yielding power as

illustrated by his superior position. Next comes his assistant who sits cross legged

next to the boss. Finally, the two workers are laying flat on the ground, looking up

at their boss. The audience can easily identify the power strata in this single shot

just through visual storytelling.

Other visual cues that aid in identifying these power dynamics include key objects

possessions: the wheelchair, the rifle, the umbrella, and the polished shoes. Later

in the film, we watch the fate of these objects radically change when the boss is

overthrown as the god-like figure. Cleverly edited, this scene demonstrates the

assistant’s spitefulness building up through reaction shots. Two cuts to his face

are inserted while his boss continues talking, conveying his dissatisfaction. The

boss’ own words foreshadow his demise as he lectures the workers, “One man can

have so much and the other so little based on one action.” The boss articulates

the power play between “helplessness [and] dominance” as he aims the rifle at his

assistant. But it’s not only over people that the boss reigns—he also conquers his

environment. We see him push the butt of his rifle into the soil, squishing a white

flower. Based on this action, as well as his deer hunting activities, the audience

registers the boss as a dominant force, ruthlessly stepping on all which he finds

trivial and below him, be it dainty flowers or lowly assistants.

Another key scene, the only one taking place indoors, hints at the fateful end to

come. After the boss speaks about God and human survival in preparation for

dinner, one of the workers surprises him by saying, “Haven’t you heard the news?

God is dead!” Eventually, the assistant steals the rifle and shoots the boss. The

workers look at their dead boss slouching in the wheelchair and remark, “Looks

like a god to me.” Whether this moment implies a Nietzschean definition of

godliness or connotations about figures of power in general, only the audience can

freely interpret that. Soon after, the assistant takes his place in the wheelchair and

the workers push him, their new boss, around the field.

In the film’s memorable final shot, the umbrella and the polished shoes are seen

marking the boss’ grave with the wheelbarrow nearby; an epitaph denoting the

end of a corrupt system (whether of power or belief, it is up to the audience to

decide). The assistant redefines power but preserves the wheelchair as the symbol

of authority.

The poetic storyline is an interesting choice. Barras’ poem talks about the

seemingly pointless act of carrying water in a sieve but compares it to the act of

writing, where seemingly innocent words can create meaningful stories. The

voiceover verses punctuate the film, underlying its absurdist tone. Whether the

filmmaker contextualizes all human endeavors, carrying water in a sieve or

working in a field, as pointless is hard to tell. But maybe the filmmaker doesn’t

want us to tell and he simply utilizes such poetry to add a touch of the absurd to

his film. Regardless of intent, Leonardo Nussenzveig makes a remarkable film and

he is certainly a promising talent to keep an eye out for.

Budapest IFF Review: Text
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