Taking the name (but not the hand-drawn imagery) of artist-author Gilles Trehin’s illustrated utopia, Angela Christlieb’s whimsical, fantasy-suffused docu sets out to explore some “real” Urvilles — three tiny villages scattered across France. Christlieb’s fascination with the outlandish (“Cinemania”) serves her well in pinpointing absurdity in the Gallic hinterlands, but fails her utterly in structuring these finds into a coherent whole. Segments go on far too long, and return trips prove merely redundant. Slight pic, which bowed at Gotham’s Anthology Film Archives Oct. 15, lacks the solid vision that unifies Agnes Varda’s subject-comparable “Daguerreotypes” or “The Gleaners and I.”
Christlieb spends inordinate time extolling the virtues of her imaginary utopia, visualized as blurry, red-tinted superimpositions of assorted modern metropolises. Reality proves more rustic, albeit weirder. Urville, Champagne, yields a wealthy family of cork-popping, name-dropping vintners; Urville, Calvados, hosts a gypsy-like circus clan whose matriarch prowls the fields dressed like a giraffe. In Urville, Vosges, the helmer discovers an immensely likable farmer/mayor and his political rival, a real-estate agent who dresses in buckskins and feathered headdresses, resides in a teepee with his squaw and totes around a life-size cutout of Bill Clinton.