By Maor Goihberg
In a recent interview with Indiewire, discussing his latest feature Bardo, Alejandro Iñárritu explained that “I will keep” editing the film “until it’s released to get the best film while I can. You never finish a film. The deadlines just ask you to deliver it.” This is a fascinating idea he brings up, that one can never really bring a film to completion, but you can only create a certain version that gets released. On account of this, some filmmakers have released different versions of the same film, such as Francis Ford Coppola with Apocalypse Now Redux. Ridley Scott famously created both a Director’s Cut and Final Cut of Blade Runner, after the studio created less satisfactory versions. Thus, while some scenes get cut, they sometimes get rediscovered and finally shown to the world.
But what if one were to create a whole original film out of unused footage? Such as is the case with Peggy Ahwesh’s Bethlehem, screened recently at our annual Revolutions Per Minute Festival. As she explained at the Q&A, she went through old footage she never used, and put it together as a form of tribute.
Suffice it to say, this was a wise venture on her part. The film takes on an almost transcendent quality, in what is one long montage of moving images; since many of these images were shot without relation to one another, it was completely up to Ahwesh to assemble them in a way that would convey the meaning she desired.
The images take place in many places, ranging from the United States to the fabled city of Bethlehem itself. Sometimes Ahwesh presents us with almost epic long shots, and at other times we get extreme closeups. A naturalistic shot of someone sitting on a bench coexists with a sequence of someone looking into a spiral. We even fly up in the air at one point; nothing seems beyond Ahwesh’s interest.
The footage appears to have been shot on an amateur video camera. While shooting on film has its advantages, there is also an inherent sense of detachment that comes with it; because film has such an inherently nostalgic quality, it can sometimes be hard to cross the barrier between us and the subject, to emphasize as much as we may want to.
Video, on the other hand, is imbued with a sense of austerity, and while this obviously limits its use in some ways, it also helps to lower that barrier. Ahwesh indeed recognizes this, to the point that one subject presses his face against the lens, and another wipes it. It can be jarring when someone breaks that fourth wall, yet it can also open the film up a little, and the people.
The film has a great, yet very calming score. Even when one of the subjects looks bored or irritated, the music helps us get past that outer appearance, into a deeper emotional state. This is a warm, empathetic film, a great experiment that demonstrates how the things we leave behind have more resonance than we may have thought.
Link to Bethlehem: Bethlehem on Vimeo