8th October 2016 9.00pm at BFI Southbank
10th October 2016 6.30pm at Curzon Soho
Ascent is an intriguing little curio with a lot on its agenda; too much, it would be fair to state. Film festivals would probably, on balance, be poorer without unique conceptual works such as this – on this level, it’s difficult to really take against Ascent, the work of filmmaker and photographer Fiona Tan, but it can only really be genuinely recommended to an audience that is extremely patient, generous and predisposed to the subject matter.
Unfolding purely in still images – ranging from contemporary digital pictures to archived monochrome “found objects” – this meditative project uses photographs of the iconic Mount Fuji as a linking device on which the gentle voiceovers of westerner Tan and her Japanese partner Hiroki Hasegawa guide the viewer on a stream-of-consciousness journey across different time periods and geographical spaces. All the while, a range of different subjects, such as Hokusai, traditional Japanese folk tales, Van Gogh, Godzilla and of course man’s relationship to the natural world, are considered. The film uses off-screen sounds, like footsteps and rainfall, to increase this ambient experience.
Regardless of any other achievements, Tan has made a film that is very difficult to review – Ascent has no plot, no actors, no camera movements; nothing but photographs and voice. What you bring into this experiment will determine what you get out of it. Nonetheless, even on the terms of Tan’s own unique lexicon, there are fair criticisms to register. Ascent’s 80-minute running time drags, and some of the philosophical musings are banal and unmemorable. In addition, the attempts at a dialectic between the western voice of Tan and the eastern voice of Hasegawa – in a clear nod to the 1959 masterpiece Hiroshima Mon Amour – never really gets off the ground due to Tan’s own reluctance to make any negative critique of Japanese culture, even brushing off the Hirohito-era Nationalism as a bi-product of European visitors, akin to a viral infection. Whether this is true or not is beside the point; the simplistic way it is handled feels indicative of the film’s flimsiness.
Ascent feels like it was made almost exclusively for the pleasure of its creators and makes one wonder if the concept behind this project could have worked in a different medium, such as a live show or installation, where the intimately personal nature of the end product would have been touching, rather than an ossified and remote exercise in vaguely related ideas. Despite these issues, however, it’s worth celebrating one of the most poetic passages of any film in 2016, when Hasegawa compares the view of the urban sprawl of Tokyo from Fuji at night-time as resembling a the wriggling movements of a group of glow-worms.
Ascent does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about the 60th London Film Festival visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for Ascent here: