Jon Salimes’ Maz-zo-man-nee is the type of experimental narrative most filmmakers only dream of creating, but can never quite accomplish. He uses the 12-minutes allotted his story so well that we are held captive by its suspense, long after the movie ends.
Salimes’ tale concerns an aged, mustached man in a tattered straw hat, who drifts in his canoe along a river. At intervals, the man takes a brief respite in the brush, sleeps overnight in a tiny tent, and then disappears into the river’s fog. This fragmented little saga seems simple enough—or maybe not—and therein lies its genius.
In order to crack Maz-zo-man-nee’s mysterious code, analyzing the film’s title may be a start. Perhaps Maz-zo-man-nee is the small town in Wisconsin called Mazomanie, and the river in question is the Wisconsin River. Maybe, but naming the film’s tangible location will not get us any closer to solving the mystery of the un-named man—as Salimes challenges (or entraps) us to do.
Maz-zo-man-nee is a silent film, and though we sometimes hear the sounds of birds, the river, or the man walking along the brush—just as often, we hear nothing at all. And so we learn to read silence, as a language to be treasured, or feared, in equal doses.
Building upon the notions of stranglehold-suspense and fear, I should mention that the cinematography in this film is magnificently beautiful. Beauty and fright juxtaposed in this way only deepens the chasm between what we know, see and what we imagine. And this is the very essence of great filmmaking.
So where does all that leave us viewers, and writers? Transformed into the picture, of course—right inside the lone canoe, alongside the un-named man, going anywhere and nowhere. Maz-zo-man-nee, and its solitary character journeying the watery road to a place unknown, recalls Greek mythology. Magically conjured images of the mustached, not-so-nice Zeus, and his equally fiendish ally, the Goddess Styx (for whom that infamous river to the underworld is named), leech uncomfortably into our thoughts.
Another maybe, in a growing list of possibilities. But for now, how about if you view Maz-zo-man-nee for yourselves, and see where you are led? I have a feeling you’ll have much to talk about when you return.
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