The short-film form often gets short shrift, and even though “The Fourth Dimension” won’t exactly alter the landscape, it does make the well-repeated point that less is more. The brainchild of Vice Media’s Eddy Moretti, this provocative triptych of abbreviated tales marks the return of erstwhile enfant terrible Harmony Korine, while also showcasing the talents of Russia’s Aleksei Fedorchenko and Poland’s Jan Kwiecinski; the result seems fated for festival play despite the considerable merits of each episode, most notably Kwiecincki’s quasi-apocalyptic “Fawns.”
Throwing caution if not necessarily career to the wind, Val Kilmer stars in the first installment, Korine’s “The Lotus Community Workshop.” Playing an inspirational speaker named Val Kilmer, the thesp more or less turns inspirational speaking upside down before an audience of street people and rehab outpatients inside a skating rink somewhere in Los Angeles.
It’s a tour de force of what seems to be improvisational lunacy from the behatted, bicycling Kilmer, whose performance has fewer concrete things to say about Los Angeles, con jobs or mass therapy than it does about the merits of watching a gifted actor walk a high wire. Korine, sticking to his stylistic guns, utilizes many of the techniques of editing and sound (abrupt cutting, abrupt silences) that characterized his earlier “Kids” and “Gummo,” and are equally effective here.
There’s little thematic or aesthetic connection among the three films, apart from the fact that each is concerned with time — most emphatically the middle chapter, Fedorchenko’s “Chronoeye,” about a brilliant, cantankerous physicist, Grigory Mikhailovich (Igor Sergeev), who thinks he has discovered a portal into the future. As such windows go, it’s less portal than porthole: Through it, Grigory can see only as much as one might observe through the peephole on a front door. He doesn’t know whose perspective is being provided, or who owns the pair of hands he sees playing a piano.
Grigory’s obsession and frustrations with his work have blinded him to the world. Fedorchenko situates his hero, at one point, atop a tower, providing breathtaking vistas of a Russian megalopolis of which Grigory takes no notice. Likewise, he’s all but oblivious to the lusty dancer (Darya Ekamasova) living above him, except to complain about the noise. She, in turn, exhibits enormous interest in Grigory’s well-being, but so do the Russian tax authorities, who want Grigory to pay up on an international physics prize that he turned down on principle. In a gesture that resonates throughout the history of Russian fiction, the state still wants the money.
The most memorable of the pic’s stories, and the appropriate closer, is Kwiecinski’s “Fawns,” about three young nihilists who happen upon a postcard Polish village in the midst of a mysterious natural disaster. A flood of biblical proportions is on its way, but the cause is unknown.
Nevertheless, the trio’s minor sacking of the town, and sexual shenanigans, have a deadline, one that adds enormous tension to Kwiecinski’s economical but crystal-clear development of his progressively complex characters. The conclusion, while open-ended, carries enough uncertainty and poignancy that the viewer is left a bit dizzy and in awe of Kwiecinski’s emotional virtuosity.
Production values are a mixed bag, although the widescreen effect achieved by lenser Christopher Blauvelt in “Lotus Community” is terrific, and d.p. Kamil Plocki puts a gorgeous, if ironic, gloss on “Fawns.”