Blurring sensations that exist outside of time and place, local filmmaker Jeff Ensign has given birth to Enfant, which crawls its way into the public eye this weekend at Dreamland Theater in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town. But don’t make the mistake of looking at this non-narrative, speechless short film in standard movie terms. And those lured to any goods with full-frontal female nudity will soon realize that sex is far from Enfant’s ponderous, fractured-to-healing vision. Like its French title, the film sweeps something familiar across our English-speaking minds and, at the same time, takes us away to another place, somewhere strange, hypnotic and sated with a voyeuristic ambience.
Bony nubs of what once could have been trees reach up to the rings of an unknown sun and touch a barren terrain where a lone structure rests. But what’s inside won’t rest: A figure, covered in burlap and boards like a life-sized kachina doll, sways back and forth, up and down, with a naked woman lying beneath the flaps. With matted black hair and white powdered skin, she jerks her hand in agitated, overlapping motions, then rolls and bobs side-to-side until clear of the burlap shadow.
Ensign doesn’t rely on self-aware, conscious thought, but employs gesture and movement as the film’s prehistoric, ritualistic reality. Reading Antonin Artaud’s rebellious views against traditional Western theater reinforced Ensign’s aesthetics and, like his artistic hero, he considers language an impediment that complicates motivations. As the one-man production crew responsible for the film’s direction, 3-D animation, digital editing and you name it, he shot Enfant on High 8 video in his parents’ two-car garage.
Ensign’s intent is to strike deep into the raw core of emotions and force onlookers to look at who they are, which is a tricky thing to pull off. How more direct can you get than boring into where we come from? And not just us: Enfant cradles the birth-and-motherhood common denominator of all animal life. Actors Eulogy and Kimberly D. Smith convey emotion and relationship through enigmatic gesture and motion, and Ensign sculpts their movements with a painterly treatment, by layering the visual and sound surfaces.
The woman begins to walk. Her torqued torso hangs in the air and her contorted face — eyes up in sockets, mouth open and twisted — is turned up over her labored movements. It’s easy to see the influence here of Sankai Juku (the Japanese Butoh dance troupe, another inspiration to Ensign) and their explorations of the physical, but video allows for added dimensions cut off by the limitations of the stage. Ensign mutes and isolates colors — he layers gesture over gesture in multiple exposures, as if the next movement can’t transpire without the memory of the last, and as if one posture can’t let go of the other. The gestures begin to interact, over and over, within primal acts we can never let go of — like urination: In Enfant’s context, it isn’t only a bodily function, but a purging, a fouling of one’s own home, a demarcation, a defecation and an action that connects us to many beings and all sentient time.
But the images aren’t working alone. They’re accompanied by acoustical constructions by Evolution Noise Slave (another Ensign identity), from echoing chimes that ride over hollow white noise to muted piano in a continuous, amniotic-industrial wave of looping knocks and cracks.
In a mere half hour, Enfant forces us to tap into exhausting experiences branded into the brain — the down-on-all-fours primal times that haunt our unconscious thoughts until they bob, roll and sway onto the screen for our conscious eyes to consider. And it does all this without saying a word. >
Showing Friday-Saturday, June 20-21, 8 p.m. at Dreamland Theater (44 E. Cross Street, Ypsilanti). No one under 18 admitted. Enfant stills will be displayed and sold. See www.glafizian.com or www.dreamlandtheater.com for info.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].