“What is this film called Love?” is a poetic travelogue of filmmaker Mark Cousins’ three-day layover in Mexico City. But it’s so much more than that. As Cousins treks through the city streets, he carries out an imaginary conversation with his laminated 8.5″x11″ photo of Sergio Eisenstein, moving the documentary beyond the notion of travel to contemplate memory, solitude, landscape and ultimately the nature of happiness.
Who is Sergio Eisenstein and why does he warrant such a grand gesture? In short, he was a Soviet Russian filmmaker and theorist. He pioneered the montage, adding a level of complexity to the medium of film that revolved around the theory of visual metaphor– combining images and symbolic meanings to provoke a certain effect in viewers. He made films that are political and poetic. He loved Mexico City, and referred to it as a geography upon which his entire being was stretched across.
The voice-over narration is rich with allusions to literature and poetry. This made the English Major in me feel like tap dancing. If you love reading, you will love this film. Your ears will perk up at references to Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf on the pleasures of street haunting, to Robert Frost and apple picking, to Joan Didion and her tear-jerking essay on leaving New York City, to Ralph Waldo Emerson and the myth of permanence.
What I found most appealing about this documentary was its exploration of the word “ecstasy”. Cousins turns his wandering into a quest by challenging himself to find 5 things that make him feel ecstatic. He finds hints of ecstasy in certain camera angles, in revolutions, in architecture that makes your eyes dazzle, in the brilliance of bodies. But most simply, there is ecstasy in movement.
Before this documentary, Cousins made serious films including “The Story of Film: An Odyssey”, a 15 episode series (available on Netflix!) that is an extended love letter/history lesson about cinema.
This is not a serious documentary, it’s pretty silly. But it’s insightful. It shows you that films can make you see the world differently. It challenges you create and explore things you don’t know about. It celebrates change. One of the final lines asks “If you could turn into something else, what could it be”?
Watch this if you can handle metaphors.
What is This Film Called Love? – Trailer from BerwickFilmFest on Vimeo.