BERLINALE22 REVIEW: Super Natural [2022]

  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 85 minutes
    Release Date: 2022 (Portugal)
    Studio: Portugal Film
    Director(s): Jorge Jácome
    Writer(s): Jorge Jácome, André Teodósio & José Maria Vieira Mendes

Have we started yet?

Less a film than an experience, Jorge Jácome‘s Super Natural is the sort of work that only achieves the sort of transcendence it aspires towards if the viewer is willing to meet it halfway. Unfortunately for me, doing so is easier said than done considering most of the narration (subtitled computer noises reminding me of videogames that don’t have the budget to hire voice actors) is very clearly trying to engage with me throughout. That device can work when the questions being asked are rhetorical in a way that ensures I cannot actually answer them before the artwork provides its own answer instead. Jácome and co-writers André Teodósio and José Maria Vieira Mendes, however, implore us to speak aloud. They demand participation as though the interaction is catered to me.

Because I know it’s not, anything I say or think is inherently rendered silly. And I understand that this reality is partially on me rather than the art alone. There will surely be many audiences that sit down and marvel at the emotional and sensory back-and-forth they willingly allow themselves to enjoy. From my perspective, though, that voice is merely repeating itself over and over again. The images change—Rothko-esque watercolor transitions, Super-8 film with visible sprocket hole, digital footage of a group of young adults (most with what appears to be Down syndrome) having fun with nature—but the point stays the same: every beginning is an ending and everything that ever was is connected to everything that ever will be. Beautiful sentiments delivered with cyclical redundancy.

I was vibing with the whole for the first twenty or so minutes too. There was a steady visual progression from abstract to literal and the choices made were intriguing enough to keep me engaged (one moment sees a face carved out of a fruit while it’s being eaten, a scream juxtaposed from its “mouth” while another provides romance between a woman and her beau covered in leaves to look like a plant). My continued active involvement was therefore predicated upon whether that path forward supplied purpose beyond said vibes. The moment I realized I wasn’t going to get what I needed (not that the film wasn’t providing exactly what it desired), my patience gauge hit zero and I merely coasted through to see how it all ended.

My responses became punchier as it progressed to the point where the electronic sounds asked something in the realm of “Are you still there?” and I chuckled a “Not really” back. Is that Jácome’s fault? Partially. Yes. The moment he created a work that succeeds only if the viewer is willing to give themself over to it and become a quasi-co-author themselves means that the result better be foolproof as far as winning over those who seek out this type of heady conversation and those who may stumble upon it without the ability to climb aboard (like myself). It’s a two-way street, though. I shouldn’t have watched it at all knowing I probably would have been on the outside looking in. My personal experience was destined to fail.

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