The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers
An uncomfortable and disquieting tale of directorial vision turned nightmare, Ben Rivers’ The Sky Trembles, and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, set against a sparse, two-dimensional Moroccan desert landscape, is in turn voyeuristic, arresting and compelling.
Echoing Rivers’ experimental style of blurring the lines between documentary and drama, fiction and filmmaking, the cumbersome title taken from the Paul Bowles short story A Distant Episode, on which the film is based, is a fitting metaphor for the slow unfurling but ultimately rewarding narrative. It is not an easy watch by any means, and with good reason.
Unsettling by design, the journey is perhaps most succinctly depicted in a scene where a hooded figure silently leads protagonist Oliver Laxe wordlessly through deserted streets and down rocky mountain tracks; the viewer does not ask why, but rather confidently assumes there is a good reason and sits and waits.
The film opens on the set of real-life French avant-garde filmmaker Oliver Laxe’s The Mimosas and the lines between documentary and fiction are immediately blurred and constantly in question. Despite starting slowly, there is little let-up, with the jarring antithesis of silence, fragmented, awkward dialogue and Philippe Ciompi’s sound used to great effect in building a low-level but ominous sense of unease. This eventually reaches a crescendo as Laxe’s character leaves his production in reality for a brutal and, we are more readily certain, fictitious final act.
Described by Rivers himself as being “a film about film-making” The Sky Trembles is a visually arresting, multi-layered commentary on the role of the film industry as inherent outsider and voyeur within foreign cultures, and one would assume that any and all interpretations alluding to colonialism more broadly cannot be accidental.
Although lacking in character build, with a final shot so sparse and vast on 16mm that the eye tricks itself in to seeing both forward and backward motion, The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers is a slow-burn worth the investment.
The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers is released nationwide on 6th May 2016.
Watch the trailer for The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers here: