Indian painter/filmmaker Velu Viswanadhan’s “Ether” is the final installment in a series of five films, begun in the 1970s and produced with backing from France’s Centre Pompidou museum, all rooted in an exploration of the planet’s natural elements. Previous entries include the more tangibly titled “Air” and “Water,” which are by no means required viewing to enjoy this beguiling and very beautiful conceptual work. Pic should find ample fans in the same audiences who embraced “Baraka” and the “Quatsi” films of Godfrey Reggio.
Unfolding over the course of a single day in contemporary India, dialogue-less pic is structured as a gradual journey from bustling modern cities to unperturbed mountain streams and ancient ruins. But beyond that, the film thrives on a kind of organized disorder, freely juxtaposing celebratory rituals against funerary ones and images as delicate as a spider’s unbroken web against those as grand as giant clouds pushing shadows and light across a majestic landscape. Somehow, Viswanadhan seems to suggest, all is part of some grander design. Tech aspects are superior, particularly the richly textured 16mm lensing and the multi-layered soundtrack that combines found sounds with traditional music.