88:88 A Cinematic Coup
By: Hooman Razavi
"The cinema substitutes for our gaze a world more in harmony with our desires." Andre Bazin problematizes the realism emanating from the moving-image. Isiah Medina, the director of experimental film, 88:88 (2015), breaks away from the same Bazin's notion and, in a complicated and ironic way, affirm his thought. The film is reminiscent of his other piece, Idizwadidiz (2017), which experiment with formal elements, even though depicting a story of a poverty-stricken individual (Val) who attempts to get out of her hellish and hopeless lifestyle.
Medina, in 88:88, is very preoccupied with depicting a new conceptualization of reality, time, political action, and marriage of form and content. The reference to the repeated numbers of 8 is an early indication, which is substantiated and uncovered more intuitively and viscerally by viewers. His aesthetic is radical but not without precedent in the history of cinema. A viewer may notice traces of Eisenstein right from the outset. The image is free of conventional rules, shots less stable and sound synchronization with image. Jump cuts are dominant and the queen of the art piece. Moreover, time is depicted not only in a non-linear fashion but with a sense of transcendence. The viewer may feel that in the absence of narrative, formal dialogues, and visual continuity, the only binding force/saviour is the spectator's imagination who perceive the poetic quality of this work of art.
In rationalizing why cuts are the main aesthetic drive, Medina commented, " Subjectivity is no longer the substantial image of the close-up, but in the very cut that makes the distinction possible." Cuts, both on formic and thematic levels, open the door for the creation of time-images, interpretative frames, and opening for possibilities and new sensibilities. Bazin's conceptualization is under attack here. Madina politicizes the image, by decoupling image and sound, adding elements of silences, blurry image, off-voices, repetitive dissolves and superimposed imagery. He understands that these formalistic jolts are needed to free the image of its mediocrity and pre-conceived notion of harmony. His attempt to instil in viewers a new mode of spectatorship, based on the repetition of cuts, is aptly successful. By doing so, he explores the unchartered territory of filmmaking and embodying a bold auteurship.
Nevertheless, amid these experimentations, 88:88 shows an ensemble of characters in a web of disjointed relationships. The identification with any is challenging, but as the element of time that is fleetingly permanent, characterization and acting are short-lived but non-existent. In his version of realism, Medina depicts many elements: present time, subjectivity, urbanity, place, love, and technology. These totality of themes are present but in a collage of image and sounds weaved together by the director. In a sense, one can argue that even in this avant-garde experiment, the director is still the king and manipulate the viewers and how they desire. Medina still excludes what he finds unwanted in the visual and aural fields, though he allows for multiplicity but in a guided and disorienting manner. In sum, 88:88 is a cinematic coup against the mainstream and commercial camera and long-held codes of not destabilizing image, sound, and the underlying interrelationship. It could potentially herald a new horizon for the future of cinema and those who are discontent with its corporatization and blind subservience to digitization. And from the lens of spectatorship, it could be painstakingly challenging to watch and decode the film, but in exactly doing so, the viewer's subjectivity and what it could desire out of a piece of art can be reawakened and remodeled.
Grade : A-
*The link to watch 88:88 is available on youtube.