In order to thrive, stereoscopic cinema desperately needs some wild, artistic directors to jump in and experiment with the format, and so the prospect of a portmanteau film featuring 3D shorts by Peter Greenaway, Jean-Luc Godard and Edgar Pera is reason enough to get excited. Alas, the enthusiasm dies there, as “3X3D” amounts to little more than a vanity commission to celebrate the EU selecting Guimaraes, Portugal, as its European Capital of Culture for 2012. Too narrowly targeted to generate much interest abroad, this disappointing group effort won’t travel much beyond Guimaraes, except to wrap the Critics’ Week at Cannes.
Open to sampling the new technology, Greenaway has the most fun with the format, playing with split-screen, transitions, floating text and visual effects as he does circles around Guimaraes’ sprawling Palace of the Dukes of Braganza. Actors dressed as key figures associated with the city appear around various corners, accompanied by floating (yet barely legible) blocks of text, as the image shifts back and forth between practical photography and CGI. Instead of having Greenaway deliver what looks like a low-end educational filmstrip, it would have been entertaining to see the director re-create a small historical scene of mini-narrative. The result, called “Just in Time,” barely improves upon stock museum slideshows.
Godard, by contrast, makes only the slightest gesture to embrace 3D, sarcastically dubbing his film “The Three Disasters” (a pun on 3D that would make an apt alternate title for the whole omnibus). Instead, he engages with the very concept of 3D, challenging the tradition of perspective in the fine arts and wondering what will become of films shot flat. Operating in roughly the same cheeky cine-essay form selected for “Film Socialisme” and “Histoire(s) du Cinema,” he juggles unsourced 2D film clips, archival footage and shots of a stereoscopic digital camera filming itself in the mirror, while giant keywords flash across the screen.
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If Godard’s entry errs on the side of inscrutability, then Pera’s “Cinesapiens” loses points for sheer obviousness. Beating audiences over the head with Film Studies 101 concepts about the tension between realism and fantasy, the least known of the three directors assembles a crowd in a Guimaraes movie house and has them face the camera, suggesting that these “spectator-believers” are sitting on the opposite side of the screen watching us. When not chiding the hollow artificiality of Hollywood films, this tacky lecture likens moviegoing to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, while trying to pin down spectators’ ideal role in what they watch. The winners in Pera’s debate were the many who walked out early.