Metáfora (English: “Metaphor“) opens with a gorgeous black and white shot of the moon, fading out to classical music and a narrating voice over. It is hard to summarize the film’s plot, mostly because there isn’t any actual plot in the traditional sense of the word or at least from what we are used to in 99% of the films we watch. Metáfora chooses to be the odd 1% of cinematic experiences that decides to take an alternative narrative approach and subvert the viewer’s expectations. But to what effect?
Prior to seeing Metáfora i had only seen the above trailer. My only expectations were to see something unconventional, perhaps innovative, although that is a lot to ask for any art form. Especially in cinema there doesn’t seem to be anything “new under the sun”, in the midst of remakes, reboots and other rehashed proprieties. In this sense independent films like Metáfora seem to be a breath of fresh air, however not everything that shines is gold and this film is a good example.
Estonian filmmaker Sebastian Wesman offers us a technically competent film on every level of the mise en scène and relatively high production value. The film appears to be shot with digital cameras, which only works against it (in some scenes) detracting from its otherwise stunning cinematic look. The lighting and the costumes are the only other aesthetic choices that occasionally weren’t entirely satisfying (although both probably wouldn’t exist with a bigger budget).
Beyond that the film shines for its sound design and camerawork which mesmerize the viewer and transport them in the realm of the characters of the picture. The film begins in black and white with actors seemingly walking around aimlessly to an incessant voice over, birds twittering, wind blowing and Estonian chants. The film progresses in color as it goes along, everything else stays more or less the same. While the viewer might not exactly know what’s going on, the images are good-looking enough to keep you entertained.
What I appreciated about the images was that, yes, they were beautiful, but in a subtle way. The narrative tries to be as subtle, but lacks substance. As the film progresses themes repeat themselves over and over. The film is supposedly poetic, it is certainly abstract and not straightforward in its message, although that doesn’t mean that it necessarily has a (worthwhile) message. There is a lot of “religious” symbolism and the film seems to want to meditate on that or encourage the viewer to do so.
However the annoying and frankly void voice over does not offer any valid purpose of existence other than to avoid this being a silent film. It is no secret that I don’t particularly appreciate voice over in any film, but I particularly dislike it when it serves as the main narrative driving force. In this case it is more damaging than helpful to understand the film and in addition to that the voice isn’t particularly soothing either. Certainly a lot of the nuances might be lost in translation, although that is a minor problem.
The main problem is that after a certain point I just stopped caring about the voice over: it didn’t make any sense. Not to me anyway. If you are an art student or if you know the filmmaker you might see things differently; but then the question becomes “who was this film intended for?”. Is it only for an intellectual crowd? Shouldn’t the average filmmaker be able to get something out of it as well? For a while I tried to figure out what the metaphor might be. Is it a Plato cave analogy type of thing? Is it about the origins of the universe and mankind?
Why be so cryptic? What’s the point? Maybe because our specie’s origin is also a mystery? Then how to solve this rebus? The filmmaker’s choice seems to be an atheistic one: we are alone, we don’t need “God”. But there are consequences to that. If we decide to take God out of the equation and put ourselves at the center of everything that is.. a lot to take in. In the film this is represented in a glorious, triumphant way. In my opinion that is just sad (because I do believe there is a God). In fact I believe that without God everything is devoid of meaning.
Ironically, the film’s conveyed sense of emptiness only confirms this. That is most definitely accidental on the part of the filmmaker. That is of course, unless in a dramatic twist he isn’t an atheist and he wants to show precisely that God gives us a purpose, because we are His creatures. Returning to the film: I wish it wasn’t so bound to its formalist aesthetic choices to let the audience member feel more. The music helps a bit in this regard, however it is also distracting because it echoes the voice over in its thoughts.
Overall there are positive, as well as less positive aspects to Metáfora. Is that enough for me to recommend this film? Yes, absolutely. I am glad I watched it, because I am the first to admit my limited knowledge of Eastern European cinema and it was actually my first Estonian film ever. I applaud the filmmaker for his technical knowledge of the craft, but was less impressed with his storytelling abilities. If you enjoy films such as Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin) or the works of Béla Tarr seek out this film. If your tastes run a little more mainstream: Ted 2 is in theaters right now!
5 out of 10