Reviewed at Sarajevo Film Festival (New Currents), Aug. 23, 1999. Running time: 97 MIN.
An experimental, autobiographical docu logging the director’s reaction to his best friend’s death, “December 1-31,” is a difficult film to like. Though some may praise its original approach and technological audacity — like the Fipresci jury that named it best film at Sarajevo — most will find it inaccessible, pretentious and self-indulgent. During a screening at Bosnian fest , the most common sound was that of seats folding as exasperated patrons got up to leave.
Each day throughout December 1997, filmmaker Jan Peters shot a three-minute reel of film. Assembled in chronological order, these 31 reels form “December 1- 31.” Peters’ commentary, alternately recorded as voiceover or direct-camera address, is abruptly truncated at the end of each reel. Helmer has mined this territory before: His freshman feature was entitled “November 1-30.”
Docu functions as a sort of filmic diary having a radical subjective approach of freely associated images, stream-of-consciousness style. Clearly, making this film was a manic way of working through Peters’ grief for his dead friend, Grubi , but this is such a personal project that its cumulative yield for the impartial viewer is slight. Pic has the laborious effect of reading someone’s diary; you note that while the author has experimented with different styles of penmanship or various writing instruments, each day’s theme is indistinguishable from the one that preceded it. And after just four or five such cinematic journal entries, number 31 seems painfully far off.