Destined to rank with monumental avant-garde films like Michael Snow’s “La Region centrale” and Andy Warhol’s “Empire,” James Benning’s “Ruhr” brings a filmmaker dedicated to 16mm into the digital age as his HD camera contemplates various sites in Germany’s industrial Ruhr heartland. Ideally seen on the largest screen possible, Benning’s assemblage of seven static, elegantly composed shots (six running between seven and 18 minutes in hour one, plus a final hourlong shot) will attract more than his usual high-art fan base during a prestigious fest run.
Part one opens on a tunnel with vehicles of various sizes and noise levels rumbling or rushing past, followed by a startling cut to a factory spitting out steel pipes. Nature asserts itself in a bravura shot of a thick tree grove as commercial planes land at Dusseldorf Airport. Congregants at a mosque’s Friday prayers are viewed with dramatic intimacy; a worker cleans graffiti from a Richard Serra sculpture; and a street in a factory workers’ neighborhood is calmly observed. Epic part-two shot (digitally manipulated) of a coke plant periodically belching steam at dusk is hypnotic.