As a personal kickoff of this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Hungarian 'Milky Way' ('Tejút'), directed by Benedek Fliegauf, proved to be a fascinating meditation on that strangest species in the universe: humans. Perhaps the best way to describe this film is as a 'Songs from the Second Floor' in extreme slow-motion. Consisting of ten tableaux vivants, all beautifully composed exteriors, it presents an absurd and comical view of human life, in the slow pace of a wild life documentary.
In an interview, Fliegauf referred to the tableaux as haiku. And indeed, their meaning is in the observation itself, and in the space and time they leave for reflection. Though the film is what you'd call an acquired taste, Fliegauf's attention to detail (he was also responsible for art direction), as well as the subtle sound design, keep every tableau interesting - even if it's only in the way the clouds move across the sky, or a certain kind of ripples on the surface of a lake.
If there's a 'message' to the film, it is implicit in its special, unhurried way of looking at the world and the people that inhabit it. As Fliegauf sees it:
Human beings are just one race in the biosphere. We behave and look like VIP guests on this planet, but we are not. In the film, the human beings look like little, very delicate creatures.
Thus two mountain bikers crossing a rocky hill become strange ants on wheels, and some elderly people in a swimming pool - their bodies distorted under water - become lazy amphibian creatures driven by their instincts. Some of the tableaux offer a more disturbing view of mankind, as in the scene of a man at a container terminal, who comes to pick up a woman hidden in one of the containers.
With its complete lack of context or explanation, the behavior of humans in 'Milky Way' acquires an alien, dreamlike quality that is quite refreshing if you're willing to invest the time to let it sink in. If absorbed properly, it works outside of the cinema as well...