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Audience as Filmmaker: Filmic Interpretation in 80,000 Years Old

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

This is one piece in a collection of 10 film reviews submitted by this year’s New Wave Jury members at Cornwall Film Festival 2021. The collection tackles recent films that stood out as radical works of filmmaking. You can read the other reviews here.

Made by Christelle Lheureux, 80,000 Years Old (2020) engages the past and present in conversation, reflecting on personal history, lived experience, ancestry and legend. Céline, an archaeologist who spends her lonely summer in a town full of memories and familiarity, confides joyously in nature, but is mostly looking for human connection. Her desperation towards reconnecting with her past is mirrored in her profession – as she digs up footprints of ancient humans, she makes an attempt to untangle the loose threads of her childhood. Though she is considering starting anew, her proclivity to nostalgia hints at her incapability to let go of the past.

Despite an intentional step forward in traditional filmmaking, Lheureux’s visual arts background does not want to be left behind. It’s as if her attempt at creating a narrative short film is inherently coded to be a love poem to experimental cinema. While working within cinematic structures, she playfully critiques the perspectives of dramatic fiction.

She presents an exciting way of delivering an engaging narrative through dual-screen displays to utilise the endless possibilities of association. Some of these scenes highlight similarities of feeling, contrast opposing atmospheres, or draw parallels between past and present, whilst some comment on the nature of filmmaking itself. By showing full, unedited bits of dialogue through side-by-side reverse shots, the filmmaker hands the responsibility of editing to her audience by allowing them to decide their visual interpretation of the conversation.

The unconventional formal delivery feels incredibly natural when infused with her personal artistic touch, and reflects on her affinity for using installation as a means to exhibit films. For the most part, installations tend to play video art on a loop, and 80,000 Years Old echoes that by creating a desire to rewatch. The film presents a string of new possibilities and ways of interpretation with every rewatch. The narrative becomes fluid, mirroring the plurality of the human experience. In the introduction for her film’s recent release on MUBI, Lheureux explains that “the film does not deliver any tangible truth, but a series of possibilities with which the spectator navigates and constructs his own truth.” Thus, in a way, she empowers her audience to be somewhat of a filmmaker themselves, freeing herself from the burden of clarity by surrendering her dramaturgical control.

80,000 Years Old is a work of art that is impossible to fully understand, one that brings you back to it over and over so you can uncover more of its possibilities. Yet you end up completely and utterly lost in a beautifully meaningful way that perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of time.

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