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There are two notions that compete in this, the desire to translate
knowledge into some way of making sense and the desire to resist, mock,
or confound the impulse. On a broader canvas, both these desires
compliment each other. Together they form a world we posit to know,
have explored and understand, yet at the same time a world that holds
unexplained mysteries from us. Places we haven't dared venture yet or
don't know how.
The first notion is in the form of an allegory, a rather common use in French film. We see a group of spoiled, petty city slicks embark upon and become lost in a mystifying forest landscape. Faced with the absence of signifiers by which to nagivate this new space, we see how this pocket of civilization comes apart and what cruel passions and violence is unleashed in the process. We see how they devise hierarchies and dogmas to overcome their situation, how in the face of disaster they attempt to imprint meaning and order in their efforts. One of them becomes a Moses figure, who distributes order according to his divine decree. This is the part of the film that is the least interesting to me, precisely because it is mapped too clearly.
Then there is the notion that things don't always make sense, or that they make more sense when they don't, which is the province of the surrealists among others. Which is to say that in the small cacophony of the world, where chance is an agent of fate, we may steal glimpses of the music of the spheres. This is mostly confined in a clever ploy in the finale, where we simultaneously experience present time and the future repecussions. We see the boy, scarred by memories of his adventure, talk to his grown self.
What links them together is the map of this landscape, portrayed here as a series of heads within heads within heads. This should be clear enough as metaphor. These people are not lost without, but within, where in ignorance we confuse illusions of the mind as describing reality. Or better yet, they are lost without exactly because they are lost inside. Without a ballast that permits an inner balance, wandering out into uncharted territory is enough to tip these people permanently over.
It's important to note in this sense that no violence is visited upon them by the land itself. It all comes from inside, from the disoriented, frightened self. In this hysteric state, these people would rather eat their own than forage the forest for food.
Lost for days in a thick, overgrown French forest, a group of American hikers resort to desperate measures in this compelling drama from Raoul Ruiz. At times, the film pushes the bounds of credibility, particularly in terms of just how quickly they turn savage. The film was inspired by actual events though, and even if a tad unrealistic, it works magnificently as a study of the arrogance of the American tourists and the barbarism that they champion. A memorable pre-hike scene has the group trying to convince a scared young girl to eat a pig they slaughtered, telling her that the pig was "made to be gobbled up" and she "won't ever grow up" unless she eats it. As the tourists then snap branches and uproot flowers as they begin their trek, it soon becomes clear just how little respect they have for their environment, and in a way, their demise is of their own making - though this is not an overt horror film like Colin Eggleston's 'Long Weekend'. It is a more of a surreal journey with a lot left deliciously ambiguous. The group, for instance, begin to suspect that their native guide is deliberately leading them in circles after an altercation; after dismissing him though, they only seem capable of traveling in circles when trying to walk straight. Bits and pieces are hard to watch, especially how quickly the children adapt to their new savage lifestyle, but the film leaves an indelible impression and, as per Ruiz norm, it is lusciously shot - both within and outside the forest. An early scene of a kid watching the elongated shadows of his parents on a wall is especially striking.
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