The Illinois ParablesBerlin Film Festival 2016
Style is critical in The Illinois Parables. More specifically, the style of the film provides the uniting force for a number of disparate anecdotes about the history of Illinois, 11 in total, ranging from the original settlement of the state to the Chicago of the 20th century. The content is filmed on relatively low-fi film stock with an unusual aspect ratio and evidence of wear and tear, which makes it difficult to distinguish between new footage filmed specifically for the project, and archival images from throughout history. The trappings of the modern day sit side-by-side with relics of the past. This seamless integration really lends The Illinois Parables a sense of authenticity, with even the black-and-white clips feeling like they belong in this narrative. In a similar vein, the storytelling voiceovers (again, not original footage, although they may fool many viewers) feel both authentic and very compelling. It’s clear that the director has gone to lengths to make these stories accessible from a modern perspective.
Sadly, this formula doesn’t always work out for The Illinois Parables. For one thing, the film’s presentation of text is somewhat clumsy, and breaks up the flow of the narrative in a detrimental way. There must surely be a more effective way of presenting these documents beyond simple images of blocks of writing. The film as a whole is also surprisingly brief, at about an hour long in total. Again, this isn’t a bad thing; it’s great to see a work like this exercise artistic restraint in the world of three-hour behemoths, and it doesn’t make the film any less effective in conveying its points. But there is undoubtedly room for some elaboration in the earlier chapters, where the relative visual and narrative sparsity may frustrate mainstream audiences.
That said, The Illinois Parables is a very effective presentation of the narrative of history, stunningly presented and clearly very intelligently crafted. Though it may have some pacing and depth issues, the film is still a skilful and very personal retelling of history, made relevant to the modern day.
The Illinois Parables does not have a UK release date yet.
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