Godfrey Reggio's Visitors is as much a Zen experience as it is a movie, although as the latter it can be quite astonishing, too - cinema that envelops and enthralls.
A nonnarrative feature shot in lustrous black and white, with a hypnotic orchestral score from composer Philip Glass, Reggio's wordless take on where humanity is right now - in the throes of technology, in a teeming 21st century - consists of exactly 74 shots. That's right, fewer shots than Michael Bay crams into maybe five minutes of a Transformers installment.
And what are those shots? Mostly looping close-ups of people's faces: men and women, children, the camera catching them head on, as though the subjects were gazing out from the screen, right at us. And there's Triska, a female lowland gorilla from the Bronx Zoo, her eyes stirring, moving, her massive head framed against a black backdrop.
In balletic slow-mo, these portraits say more than pages of dialogue could. The faces are smooth and wizened, knotted in anxiety or serene, scrutinizing, pensive, happy, sad. Intercut with shots of the Louisiana bayou, of desolate urban architecture and the landscape of the moon, Visitors weaves a meditative tapestry. The point? To consider the experience of watching, how we process images, and how we struggle to slow down, to become mindful and still.
Reggio, who made the Qatsi Trilogy, beginning with the time-lapse propelled Koyaanisqatsi in 1982, uses the camera to examine relationships - between man and nature, earth and sky, the primal and the modern.
If you find it a struggle at first to settle into the rhythms of Visitors (and I confess I did), it is because Reggio uses film in ways we have become unaccustomed to - no plot, no dialogue, no POV gimmickry. But then, suddenly, you may find yourself lost in these faces and bodies in (glacial) motion, observing them and, perhaps, observing yourself at the same time.
Visitors *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Godfrey Reggio. With numerous humans and Triska, the lowland gorilla. Distributed by Cinedigm.
Running time: 1 hour, 27 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz Bourse