In This Life (2019). 12 minutes. Directed by Bat-Sheva Guez. Written by Bat-Sheva Guez & Robbie Fairchild. Featuring Robbie Fairchild.
A dark, magical quality fills the room as soon as the film begins. The sound of rushing wind turns into a musical beat as the black screen shifts to a silhouette of a man behind hazy curtains, accompanied by a written quote from one of the four haiku masters of Japan, Kobayashi Issa. From the beginning, there is a struggle between light, dark, and self. Light plays with the curtains, contrasting the darkness of the man’s profile and the shadowed space that lines the iridescent blue sheets. It is not an inviting scene; the audience is separated from the character. Yet, it is an intriguing introduction that you will not be able to pull away from, for it is an intimate separation that connects you with the man’s grief immediately.
In This Life is made by the creative geniuses Bat-Sheva Guez and Robbie Fairchild. As explained on Guez’s website, this performing arts narrative takes its audience on a journey through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each stage is separated by an up-close shot of the main character in warm, comforting light, causing a disparity between the lighting and his facial expressions of immense pain and struggle. The film takes a hold of every part of you, guiding your eyes to dance with the artist through each scene. Observing him from afar, feeling close to him through his unspoken movements as he communicates a transformation into self out of grief, or even because of grief.
The choreography of this piece is a testament to how dance and instrumental music can say so much without words. During the first act, the man is alone in an empty room that overlooks a city. Every part of him is in constant movement. Stark, stressful movements vibrate through this body. His hands move across himself, indicating a transformation and shift of personhood. This stage is denial: he is pushing back against the change that is happening, he is being torn apart as indicated through his movement. As the film continues in act II, the setting moves to a church, and anger rears itself. Five other dancers are introduced; the man pushes away each person. The dance is now open and aggressive instead of inward. Each act introduces a new setting, new accompanying dancers, and new movements that express the emotion of each stage of grief. The moods of the separate dance pieces indicate the trials the main character is experiencing.
This is an experimental dance film that uses camera angles and movement to interact intimately with the dancers. The camera follows the characters, showing its audience what to pay attention to. The shots go back and forth, showing us the total choreography while at the same time allowing the audience to enter into the dance with close-ups of hands, faces, and arm movements. The angles impact the feeling of the film, looking up to the dancers at some points and down onto them at others to elongate the screen and make the settings appear taller and larger in comparison to the dancer. This makes for an especially chilling scene in an upscale public bathroom. The camera uses the bathroom mirror for an eerie effect, then switches to only parts of the man’s face. A significant part of the cinematography is these close-ups of the man. During one transition, hands emerge from behind the camera, controlling the man’s facial expressions. These shots are the only times when the camera is stationary; the only movement coming from the main dancer’s facial changes in warm light coming from one side of his face and darkness on the other. This creates the effect of stillness and isolation. He wants to move but is unable to escape himself. The cinematography highlights the internal struggle of the man by focusing on the most expressive parts of him.
The soundtrack, designed and mixed by Eric Brown with a score from RIVKA, is the driving force for the spirit of the film and creates an intense mood. It is a combination of electric and instrumental sounds that is very bass-heavy, demanding the audience’s attention. During the third act, Guez uses water in dance and music. It makes waves, is poured from hands, and has bodies emerging and submerging. The audio focuses on the splashing water while a musical beat plays. The music is not in the background, but seems to be a part of the water itself. The sound of water and the beat combine to make a fast-paced song. Since there is little dialogue, the music is an especially essential element of this film that drives each act.
In This Life holds the power to move: it moves the soul to be present with the dancers, it motivates the viewer to be reflective on situations as the audience connects with the film and its protagonist, and moves the audience and the main character on a journey through dance. The feeling of grief and transformation is present in the music, facial expressions, and body movement. The thematic and cinematographic elements show Guez’s outstanding talent for making pathos come to life. I recommend watching this film twice, then even a few more times. Allow yourself to flow with this film; let it take you away and get you to dance your feelings into existence.
You can learn more about In This Life on the film’s website, Facebook, and Instagram, and watch the trailer on Vimeo. To see what else Bat-Sheva Guez has done, take a look at her agnès films profile, website, Instagram, and Twitter. Learn more about Tiffany on her profile.