Enticing Sugary Boundless or Songs and Dances about Death

Colin Beckett on Between the Seas selection Enticing Sugary Boundless or Songs and Dances about Death by Tetiana Khodakivska and Oleksandr Stekolenko (world premiere).

Enticing, Sugary, Boundless or Songs and Dances about Death (Manliviy, solodkiy, bez mezh ili písní í tantsí pro smert', Tetiana Khodakivska, Oleksandr Stekolenko, 2017)

Death remains elusive to the documentary camera. So, like many films that take death as their subject, Tania Khodakivska’s Enticing. Sugary. Boundless, or Songs and Dances About Death is really a film about life. That is to say, it’s a film about everything.

Opening with a brief prologue shot in New York, the film introduces us to composer and accordionist Guy Klucevsek, recently diagnosed with an asymptomatic terminal illness. “It’s a strange situation. You feel absolutely fine, but you’re told that you’re dying.” The camera attends warmly to Klucevsek when he speaks, but it cannot help wandering, exploring the surfaces of his apartment, lingering here and there on a patch of light. The presence of the filmmakers is not obscured, nor is it exactly foregrounded. “Let’s do a quick sound test,” we hear, as we see an effort to stage an establishing shot. The effect is not distance but greater intimacy, drawing attention to the specific time and place in which the interview was conducted and its nature as a collective production.

The three sections enumerated in the title indicate a peripatetic itinerary from Italy to Ukraine and then Georgia, developing a set of documentary vignettes that speak not so much about death, but around it. None of the variety of people who appear face their demise quite so imminently as Klucevsek, but the situation he describes is understood as merely an accelerated version of the most basic fact of life. Throughout, the scenes unfold much like that first one, with glimpses into the banal details of the documentary’s staging, and camerawork that is equally interested in people’s faces and the things that surround them. 

In Italy, friends and family of Tonio Guerra, who died in 2012, erect a small memorial to the acclaimed poet, screenwriter, and playwright, and reminisce. In Ukraine, residents of a small town in the Eastern Carpathians go about their days in the lonely dead of winter, slaughtering pigs and fearing wolves; humans and animals living and dying together unremarkably. Finally, in Georgia, the filmmakers pay tribute to their fallen collaborator Giorgio Beridze, and residents of the town of Shukhuti face off against their neighbors in a raucous game of lelo burti.

Intermittently, the filmmakers will ask the person on the other side of the camera about death: whether or not they’re afraid, what they think the experience entails. “The coffin, and that’s it,” replies a wry, steely pubescent boy, gathering wood in the snowy mountain forests in Ukraine. “And you go into the hole, they fill the hole and they cover it.” Not everyone here is quite so blunt, but neither does anyone offer any compensatory fantasies of afterlife. For all intents and purposes, death is the end and there is no bargaining with it; preparation is just a matter of coming to terms with finitude.

Most theories associating cinema with death point to the dialectic of presence and absence inevitably produced by a film’s unfolding, its uncanny powers of reanimation. But in this film essay on death, Khodakivska does everything she can to keep the space-time of the screen racing to nip at the heels of the present. For the most part, the dead remain offscreen. The film does not directly memorialize them, not even the cinematographer Beridze, who worked on the film.Rather, it sets us among those who now remember. What is depicted is inescapably past, of course. But through the consistent displacement of the event by the camera’s restless, searching gaze, and the frequent intrusion of the practicalities of the filmmaking process, Khodakivska achieves something close to a perpetual now. She turns every surface over which the camera passes into a memento mori. What we are watching primarily is the passing of time, not just for those on screen, but for us in our seats.

“I assumed that once I got the diagnosis,” Klucevsek says early in the film, “I would be in a constant state of the present.” “But,” he sighs,  “it’s exhausting to live in the present all the time,” For this hour and a half, it’s a pleasure.

Colin Beckett 

Colin Beckett is an editor and writer. He lives in Los Angeles. He has written catalogue essays for the Ann Arbor Film Festival and the Viennale, and contributed to The Brooklyn Rail, INCITE Journal of Experimental Media, and Flow. 

October 24, 2017

from current issue:

New releaseOn Adultery as Mirror of Our Own SelvesBarbora Jíchová Tyson, a visual artist, who has been living in America for seventeen years, has finished her first feature film Talking About Adultery this year. According to the author, the film is an essayistic collage and represents a perspective on humanity, which holds the mirror up to us all.Barbora Jíchová TysonNew releaseFREMWhat is it like to shoot a film in Antarctica? Is it possible to get into the head of artificial intelligence? And what is GAI? All this is described by the documentarist Viera Čákanyová in the text she wrote about her new film FREM in dok.revue.Viera ČákanyováNew releaseHavel Speaking, Can You Hear Me?What were the two last years in the life of former dissident, ex-president Václav Havel like? How did he reflect on the fact that he was gradually leaving this world? Documentarian Petr Jančárek talks about his upcoming documentary film capturing the final stretch of Havel’s, life, the rough cut of which was shown at the Ji.hlava IDFF in the Studio 89 section marking this year’s anniversary of the so-called Velvet Revolution.Petr JančárekThemeEmerging Czech female documentariansIs there a new tide of emerging female documentarians in Czech cinema? What’s fascinating about the work of Czech female filmmakers like Johana Ožvold, Greta Stocklassa or Viera Čákany?Will TizardSportHow to Teach Documentary FilmmakingThis year’s Ji.hlava IDFF offered a panel discussion on how documentary filmmaking is taught in Visegrad countries. Methods used to teach documentary filmmaking in different V4 countries were discussed by lecturers from selected schools. Vít Janeček introduced documentary courses at Prague’s FAMU, Attila Kékesi represented Hungarian University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest, Viera Čákanyová talked about study programmes at Slovak Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava – VSMU, and Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz discussed documentary education at National Film School in Lodz. What emerged from their fruitful discussion? Vít Janeček, Kamila Boháčková, Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, Attila Kékesi, Peter KerekesPoemThe reanimation of Mr. PuiuKhavn De La CruzReviewA Place to Take a BreathThe film journalist Janis Prášil compares two documentary portraits of this year – Forman vs. Forman and Jiří Suchý: Tackling Life with Ease on his blog.Janis PrášilReview Music as a Lag Between Death and InfinityJanis Prášil ruminates on Solo – this year´s winner of Ji.hlava Czech Joy section – which comes to cinemas. Did the picture succeed in depicting the inner world, so hard to portray, of a mentally ill musician? And what if it is the illness itself which enables people to take a look into the grievous core of being?Janis PrášilReviewOn Sounds by ImageThe film journalist Antonín Tesař writes about the new film The Sound Is Innocent directed by Johana Ožvold.Antonín TesařInterviewGreta Stoklassa: I Read Rather than Preach the RealityAn interview with the director Greta StoklassaKamila BoháčkováInterviewTo Surprise MyselfWhile the main competition at the International Karlovy Vary Film Festival does not feature any Czech title, the festival’s documentary section has one Czech film to offer: A documentary road movie by Martin Mareček entitled Over the Hills exploring the relationship between a father and a son, as well as the distance that separates us from others. Unlike his previous socially engaged films, the latest title provides a personal and intimate insight. But as Martin Mareček put it in his interview for dok.revue – what is intimate is universal. Marek Hovorka, Petr Kubica, Kamila BoháčkováInterviewKarel Vachek: Films Just Have to Make You Laugh!One of the most original Czech filmmakers Karel Vachek made his ninth film novel called Communism and the Net or the End of Representative Democracy. Fifty years after Prague Spring and thirty years after the Velvet Revolution, Karel Vachek “with his inner laughter” looks back on the evolution of our society and predicts a transformation to direct democracy based on the possibilities of the internet that will allow for the engagement of the whole mankind without the need of representatives. His film Communism will be screened at the beginning of next year at the International Film festival Rotterdam.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionCzech docs of the year 2019Welcome at the English double issue of dok.revue 2019. This winter issue looks back upon the Czech documentary scene in the year 2019 and serves as an annual book of the most (internationally) interesting Czech documentaries and articles about them at dok.revue.Kamila Boháčkovávideo dok.revueMasterclass: Sergej Dvorcevoj23rd Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival