Experiences

Experiences (2024)

Under quarantine in Kiev during the Covid-19 pandemic, director Dmitriy Tomashpolski devised an ingenious way of making an ensemble film about not just his own, but the then near universal sense of alienation. He asked 76 different self-isolated people across the world to film themselves with smartphones, following cues provided by himself, and he then collated and edited the results into a surreal, scifi-tinged mosaic montage of individual yet collective experience. The resulting experimental film, Space (Prostir, 2021), was a free-floating capsule of its own times – yet cut to the present day, and the people of Ukraine find themselves again under (a different kind of) siege and often bound once more to their homes or bunkers. So in his latest film Experiences, and in part of necessity, Tomashpolski deploys a similar filmmaking technique – even if it is concerned more with the philosophy of the human condition than with the specificities of war. Indeed, one might regard Experiences as an exercise in anthropological escapism, as it all at once looks defiantly away from the ephemerality of a passing conflict, and both outwards and inwards at the enduring nature of what defines us as both homo and sapiens.

 After text explaining the film’s set-up – 17 actors subjected to 12 experiments in self-exploration which they themselves film following instructions from the director “based on the works of the world’s most famous philosophers” – the opening sequence of Experiences shows footage of a beach on the Aegean Coast of Greece. There is a paradox here: for although a subtitle tells us that this is “the 5th Century BC”, we can see the shadow not only of a man in the shallow waves, but of the smartphone that he is holding in his hand to film this image. The anachronism is obvious, but also pointed: for Experiences shows the past being mediated through the prism of the present, allowing its “co-authoring” performers to reenact, according to their own interpretation and in their own idiosyncratic fashion, the precepts and principia of different thinkers from history, expressly including the Ancient Greek philosophers EpicurusHeraclitus and Socrates. Indeed those shifting waters and sands on the beach reflect and visualise Heraclitus’ notion of a universe in constant flux. Meanwhile the shadow on the beach belongs to Tomashpolski himself, who is otherwise effaced from the film, even as he –  the invisible demiurge driving this creative cosmos – stage-manages and remixes the footage of others into what we see.

Experiences

The players both mine and manifest the mystery of their embodied identity by examining their thumb (a prompt from Michel de Montaigne), by considering the boundaries between themselves and plants (Julien Offray de La Mettrie), by aligning their own cognitive activities to those of bees, ants or spiders (Francis Bacon), by exploring their shadow self (Carl Gustav Jung), by locating their mood in colour (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) and relating colour to musical tone (Isaac Newton), and by finding themselves through the creation of musical instruments (Friedrich Nietzsche), or indeed by orchestrally recreating on those improvised instruments a version of Richard StraussAlso Sprach Zarathustra – a tone poem that was itself composed as a musical rendering of Nietzsche’s philosophical novel of the same name. The firm association of this musical piece with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968) adds to our sense that Experiences itself is ultimately a humanist work, similarly preoccupied with our place in the physical, philosophical and psychological universe.  

The whole exercise feels like the cinematic equivalent of Oblique Strategies combined with a game of Pass the Parcel, as Tomashpolski’s textual prompts, inspired by long-dead sages, in turn inspire the actors to discover their own modes of articulation for those same ideas, passing them on to the viewers to inspire further explorations and expressions of the Delphic maxim ‘know thyself’. Indeed, text at the end expressly invites us to upload and share Experiences so that “we’ll be able to create a sequel of this film together”. After all, these ideas never die, they just take on new form – and we are all welcome to participate as co-authors in the human condition.

strap: Dmitriy Tomashpolski’s experimental mosaic outsources its own filmmaking to proliferate its philosophical lessons in humanism

© Anton Bitel