Midsection in veteran experimental filmmaker James Benning’s triptych of features about the Californialandscape, “Los” reflects the reluctance with which the director resides near its subject, Los Angeles. Eschewing any hint of the metropolis’s bustle, glamour, or drama, Benning’s characteristically stock-still camera instead focuses on 35 nondescript public spaces that reveal this (or any U.S.) city’s inner workings as if cracking open an appliance to glimpse the wires within. Those looking for a conventional urban portrait will be baffled, but pic’s approach makes sense in context of the trilogy, bookended by more rural “El Valley Centro” and “Sogobi.”
Each 2½-minute shot trains a dispassionate eye on functional areas: A dump, a refining plant, a tangle of highway underpasses, a strip mall, joggers on a traffic island. Even the most peopled location, an intersection outside a county jail, is viewed distantly enough to avoid overt commentary. Yet Benning’s choices do add up to something, a troubled acknowledgement of impersonality, pollution, and general man-made eradication of natural landscape. As usual, his compositional eye is stunning, making each potentially interminable shot hold attention. The only sounds are ambient ones recorded simultaneously.