Nagler offers a still, silent, severe beauty that at times borders on pure abstraction.
—Alison Gillmor, reviewer
Gravity and Grace, by former Winnipegger Solomon Nagler, is a singular cinematic experience.
Don't expect story. Don't expect dialogue. Gravity and Grace--the title refers to the writings of the mystical social philosopher Simone Weil-- is an experimental film given full-length form. In place of popcorn pleasures, Nagler offers a still, silent, severe beauty that at times borders on pure abstraction.
Nagler, who currently lives in Halifax and teaches film at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, doesn't care about narrative. In fact, Cinematheque's written synopsis of the film offers more information than would be possible to parse from the film itself. Hannah (Becca Babcock) is a social worker facing her third miscarriage.
A still from Gravity and Grace (Sol Nagler)
When a stowaway (Aaron Andreino) is dropped at the Mission to Seafarers, she finds a temporary home for him in an abandoned government nuclear-fallout shelter.
Hannah's partner, Antonia (Agnes Laan), is redesigning the facility as an archive for hagiographic graphology (the study of saints through their handwriting), a Nagler-like signal of the film's elliptical, allegorical intent. Meanwhile, an older man (Tim Dunn) drifts from room to room in white underpants.
That's it for structure, really. With almost no interactions among the four isolated characters--there are probably fewer than a hundred words spoken from the film's beginning to end--the focus is on the characters' relationships to their environment.
In Nagler's unhurried evocation of the natural world, Hannah retreats to a cabin in a damp primeval forest to reconcile herself to the painful loss of another pregnancy. The other characters wander through a meticulously framed and shot industrial landscape, the Cold War bunker becoming as much a character as its inhabitants.
Long shots of environments dominate Gravity and Grace (Sol Nagler)
With its empty hallways, enigmatic doorways and weird ambient mechanical hum, it's a conflicted structure, its space-age belief in progress fighting with profound nuclear paranoia. These scenes have a claustrophobic dread--there's often a sense that something is going on just outside the frame--that borders on horror.
There are echoes here of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky in the solemn pacing, and brief moments of Terrence Malick in the play of light through fabric, the brushing of a hand over leaves. Nagler's handling of the human body sometimes recalls photographer Edward Weston. (Watch for full frontal male nudity of a kind rarely seen on screen.)
But the film's prickly mysticism and its extraordinary images, built up from actual Nova Scotia landmarks, are all Nagler's own. This isn't the kind of film that offers itself neatly to the viewer, but if you decide to give yourself over to Gravity and Grace
, you might find yourself in a wondrously strange place. Gravity and Grace screens at Cinematheque June 7, 8 & 14.
Related: Filmmaker Solomon Nagler happy to make his audience uncomfortable