Review: Tenebrae (2018) @ Thai Short Film & Video Festival

Set in the soon-to-be demolished Pearl Bank Apartments, Tenebrae by Nicole Midori Woodford is a quiet ode to cinema’s archival capacities. Following a family as they pack up the last of their belongings, the several handheld shots create a fluidity that mimics the ephemeral nature of memories. This is complemented by static, MC Escher-esque, long shots that fragment portions of the brutalist building itself. Woodford plays with cinematic technique to reveal the potential cinema has to serve as an archive of affect, just as much as it archives locations headed towards obsolescence. 

Touch plays a key role in Woodford’s construction of an archive of affect. We see the protagonist, Iris, walking across hallways and climbing staircases, trailing her fingers over the walls, as though trying to preserve the building in the sense-memory of touch. This relation between touch and memory is most explicitly rendered in the final moments of the film. Driving away in the darkened, windowless back of a pick-up truck, Iris punctures a hole in the tarp to reveal a projection of the Pearl Bank building on the floor of the truck. Marvelling at this, she and her brother touch the projection, as though by touching it they can encode it in their own corporeal memories. 

Not only does this film work as an ode to the building, it is also in many ways an ode to the communicative and evocative nature of film. These final moments reference the apparatus of film, with the two characters literally inside a black box, illuminating images through a small pinhole. In its intangibility, film brings what is lost closer to us, almost graspable by our very own hands. Woodford demonstrates a keen awareness of just how powerful film, in the way that it functions, can be. 

Review by Tanvi Rajvanshi
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