Staying Alive – Dead Bodies

Fikri Jermadi takes a deep dive into Jarek Zwolak’s short film.

‘Dead Bodies’ takes us down a rabbit hole of ruminations. It considers points of desire, figuratively (and at times, literally) baring the self to critical perspectives. We then shift to a bigger picture, providing greater thought about society at large. Within this milieu, our narrative allegiance would change as we traverse through different spaces and are privy to the inner lamentations of different characters, performed primarily by Katarzyna Bednarz, Rosa Perez Fernandez and Matt Jarman.

I do not attach names to the characters in the film, essentially because I didn’t really notice them having any specific names. I feel that is a more deliberate approach, because the film itself denotes ideas about the human condition, and what it means to be alive in the 21st century. What does stand out for them is how they are presented; on a superficial level, many are figured as members of the marginalised, not fitting in with the hegemony of the day.

Key to this analysis are the locations used in the film. The characters all traverse to and through various locations in Spain, Switzerland, France and the United Kingdom. I must admit to being less familiar with mainland European architecture to beget a truly informed discussion, but perhaps the image of our protagonists in the West End is enlightening enough. As signifiers go, it is iconic of British (and, by extension, white) cultural production, part of an imperialistic process in which identities considered alternative are often silenced into submission. The wistful wandering of our characters, then, at this very heart is a juxtaposition central to the film’s idea.

Perhaps I myself am misapplying certain tropes here, but it feels as if this film is making a strong attempt to mainstream the margins. I had previously written that of Yudho Aditya, a filmmaker then concerned with representations of gender and sexuality. While there is more than a hint of that as well, I sense that the director, Jarek Zwolak, is more concerned with ideas of class, given the sprinkling of signifiers related to communism. Some may have occurred as a result of happenstance (this does not seem like the kind of production which would organise street protests specifically for the purposes of cinema), but there remains that layer of discussion nonetheless.

One particular scene stands out in this strand of thought. Here, Matt stands in front of old buildings being torn down. Once spaces filled with life, these are presumably profit-oriented endeavours. Yet think back to how we define ourselves: if we are what we remember, consider as well how such recollections are often anchored in firm, physical locations. The demolition of such foundations is thus the resounding death knell of communities, pulling apart the very architecture of humanity.

This is particularly galling when confronted with the issue of homelessness. No society is perfect, yet the one image whose ubiquity surprised me the most in urban England is that of people sleeping in the rough. ‘Dead Bodies’ is not afraid of this, exposing ideology at its worst, as people are dehumanised into husks of what once were. That sense of existential crisis is further enhanced by a famous coffee shot, taken from the French New Wave, in which the idea of our place in the universe is critically questioned.

Having said that, the film can be a little tricky to follow, partly because I feel as if the possible happenstance raised earlier has driven this film into different directions, partly due to the multiple characters. There’s nothing wrong with this, but that’s what you have to bear in mind. ‘Dead Bodies’ does not work along the same lines as many other short films, largely because it may not intend to. It does, however, mean that if you do not have the right spirit or mindset to begin with, you can get a little lost in the film’s wandering as it wonders aloud.

In particular, the jump cuts can enhance that sense of disorientation. Though it is effective in a way, it is another example of the film not proceeding along mainstream ideals (again, this may be the point). What will be key to you finding your way through the maze is the film’s soundscape. Led by Tommaso Malline, the composition are largely haunting pieces, adding greater emotional and critical depth to the voiceover narrations. It is also useful as a sonic guide through some seemingly-random moments, stitching together a pathway that leads you back out of the woods.

I can also imagine a more compact version of ‘Dead Bodies’ to pack a meaner punch to both the gut and the mind. Could it be cleaved into two, separated along an implied chronology? Perhaps. Fantasy filmmaking notwithstanding, the reality is that the film is unafraid to bear its body and soul. It may not quite be what everyone is looking for, and perhaps at times it even runs the risk of being a little pretentious. I’ve no issue with that, as attempts to tear down false pretenses, particularly those fashioned to hide an uglier truth, are always welcome. I’m just not sure others will lay out that same doormat.

Featured image credit: Time Out

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