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by Dr Nick

"An ode to a dying civilisation"
4 stars

Jem Cohenís fiction feature debut is a strangely beautiful film. Telling two stories of two womenís different experiences of corporate America, itís full of images that stay with you long after leaving the theatre. Not for everyone, this is still experimental cinema at its most accessible.

Jem Cohen is most known for Instrument, his legendary documentary about cult band Fugazi, where he showed an amazing eye for finding captivating images in seemingly dull and ordinary places. And how does he fare in the world of fiction? Well, this is not a fiction film in the normal sense of the word, but more of a surreal-realist-film poem with a documentary feel.

Opening with a stunning time-lapse shot of a building site, with a giant crane seemingly dancing to the opening music, itís an indication that this will be a very visual experience.
Chain tells the story of two very different women, and their individual feelings about life and America. Itís intercut with random images of the decaying ruins of our civilisation. Shut-down malls and fast food restaurants, far less impressive than the ruins of ancient civilisations, but here they still appear strangely beautiful.

One girl has run-away from home. Sleeping rough in abandoned houses at night, she walks the malls aimlessly during the day. After finding a video camera, she starts making an intimate video diary, with the ultimate goal of posting it to her family. The camera becomes more of a therapeutic tool than a diary, and she soon decides against the idea of sending it. Working the occasional shift at random motels, she finally manages to get a proper place together with some other girls. But, as they all work different shifts, she hardly ever sees them and the camera remains her only friend. Thereís an inherit sadness to her stories, many of them a result of big corporations taking over the landscape and chain stores taking over the small independent ones.

The other girl, a Japanese business woman, has a completely different outlook on life. Having been sent to America to do research for the opening of a new theme park, she is amazed at all the empty space and its raw potential for capitalist expansion. Having a completely soul-less relationship with her work, she is nonetheless extremely proud of being part of the huge corporation and speaks with great respect about the company and its policies. She never mentions her employer by name, instead referring to them as ďthe managing directorĒ or ďthe companyĒ. For most of the film, she sits patiently in her hotel room waiting for her next orders, which never seem to come.

Chain is a depressing, but strangely beautiful film poem, full of images and ideas that stay with you for ages afterwards. If you get the chance to see it, take it. Itís a unique and rewarding experience.

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originally posted: 08/23/04 02:43:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Leeds Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Leeds Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston. For more in the 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.

User Comments

11/16/04 Kathy Hawkins This was a pile of pretentious BS. I just kept waiting for it to end. 1 stars
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Directed by
  Jem Cohen

Written by
  Jem Cohen

  Miho Nikaido
  Mira Billotte

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