A Common Sequence Image

A Common Sequence

By Perry Norton | October 22, 2023

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Co-directors Mike Gibisser and Mary Helen Clarke’s A Common Sequence turns the whole documentary experience into a surreal feast. There is a sequence where a robot searches for apples. Its beady eyes are cheap glass, and its spine is a USB cable. Composed purely of a head for searching and an arm for picking, its movements reflect the ghosts of billions of tree-bound souls. Ranks of large robots decimate an orchard like greedy vending machines. Their engineer smiles, but apples are dropped everywhere. These weird visions give perspectives on the birth of man as interesting as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Evolution is grafting the shape of the ape onto history once more.

The opening is a scorching beauty. We follow an ancient path down to a lake at night. The lo-fi of the filming lets the place occupy your senses. At the shore, Purepecha Indians work in torchlight, bringing in a net. It’s minutes before anyone speaks. The men explain that the salamanders are gone for ten years, wiped out when the government introduced carp. The fisherman’s dog whines and then argues violently with another off-screen. Deep in the hills of Michoacan, the pre-dawn darkness has an otherworldly bewitchment, which the directors harness.

“…fresh tales of the environment…”

The primarily Mexican setting is a real gift. The old, rural, crumbling architecture, laced with antennae and cabling, reflects the provincial science fiction of George Lucas and Ridley Scott. How exactly? The subtitles are in Star Wars yellow, for starters. While I am not entirely sure what A Common Sequence is about, the filmmakers tell fresh tales of the environment, producing a strange and marvelous keyhole akin to Koyaanisqatsi.

Gibisser and Clarke’s approach to filmmaking is stellar. They showcase people and processes that betray how deeply we have penetrated our troubled dreams of the future. The rare treat that is A Common Sequence is at the cutting edge of contemporary documentaries.

A Common Sequence screened at the 2023 BFI London Film Festival.

A Common Sequence (2023)

Directed and Written: Mike Gibisser, Mary Helen Clarke

Starring: , etc.

Movie score: 9/10

A Common Sequence Image

"…reflects the provincial science fiction of George Lucas and Ridley Scott."

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