There are many striking and beautiful images in "Wild Blue, Notes for Several Voices," but this poetic, experimental documentary on humanity's propensity for brutality is not helped by its languid pacing. Belgian filmmaker Thierry Knauff has crafted an intriguing film essay on the contrast between the light and dark side of human nature.

There are many striking and beautiful images in “Wild Blue, Notes for Several Voices,” but this poetic, experimental documentary on humanity’s propensity for brutality is not helped by its languid pacing. Belgian filmmaker Thierry Knauff has crafted an intriguing film essay on the contrast between the light and dark side of human nature. But pic has an unfortunate tendency to drag out scenes and relies too often on the easy contrast between images of innocent young kids and horrors of the past century. “Wild Blue” is strictly a specialty fest item and is ideal for festival programmers in the market for fare that strays far from traditional narrative style.

Knauff uses only women’s voices in pic, with femmes from different countries recounting various stories of brutal murder and torture. One of the first descriptions involves the way Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groups use knee-capping to punish their adversaries. Over images of the Master Drummers of Burundi, another woman calmly chats about body counts, bloody conflicts and mass graves. One of the most affecting scenes shows children happily playing in a sandbox at the foot of giant anti-aircraft towers constructed by the Nazis in Vienna and still standing today.

A curious segment follows a letter through every stage in the postal system — a fairly interesting cinematic trip — until sequence climaxes with a letter-bomb exploding in someone’s hands. A less successful scene has a kids’ outdoor game interrupted by the appearance of someone decked out in G.I. Joe gear with rounds of ammunition slung over his shoulder and a stick with a skull on the end of it. Amid all the talk of violence, little brutality is shown onscreen. Oddly enough, one of the most violent moments comes via shots of giant trees being felled.

Knauff, who spent seven years making the film, has combed the earth for evocative images and, often, he delivers, coming through with extraordinary footage of everyday life. There is a tender, wonderful scene where a classroom of children somewhere in Africa draw on little chalkboards and then hold up the boards at the same moment, creating a virtual forest of kiddie etchings. But the frustration with “Wild Blue” is that it doesn’t really say anything new about its subject. Contrasting the untarnished beauty of children’s faces with talk of the murderous actions of grown-ups is not all that deep. And many viewers will lose patience with the helmer’s penchant for lingering on images and thoughts. Still, there is admirable ambition here in the effort to assemble an almost musical tapestry of voices and images.

Lenser Antoine-Marie Meert delivers a near-nonstop array of arresting portraits, and use of black-and-white helps reinforce the poetic nature of the piece. There is no musical soundtrack, though some of the women sing.

Wild Blue, Notes for Several Voices

Belgium

Production

A Les Prods. du Sablier/La Sept Arte/Artline Films/Man's Films/Navigator Films/RTBF production. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced, directed, written by Thierry Knauff.

Crew

Camera (B&W), Antoine-Marie Meert; editor, Knauff, Michele Hubinon, Luc Plantier; sound, Bruno Tarriere. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 12, 2000. Running time: 68 MIN.

With

Joan Leighton, Neela Bhagwat, Charlene Alenga, Dalila Amali, Sanja Vranes, Kaiga Kayiganwa, Mojgan Cahen, Francoise Guiguet, Bettina Clasen, Pascal Crochet, the Master Drummers of Burundi.
(French, German, English, Farsi, Kineruanda, Beti, Hindi, Serbo-Croat and Arabic dialogue)
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