It’s experimental filmmaking gone religious in James Ristas’ short A Film in Tongues. A man (Dan Merriman), seeking absolution for a horrible crime he committed, finds salvation in the belief in the Redeemer, as explained to him by a strange, Baptism-giving bald guy (James Ristas). Religious motives get muddied, however, when his ideas of what the Redeemer is, or will be, conflict with the potential reality.
Or, I think that’s what is going on. Shot on what appears to be black and white 8mm, the film’s dialogue is spoken predominantly in tongues, subtitled for your convenience. The result is an uncomfortable feeling throughout, as things are always just a little bit off. But even with dialogue spelled out on the screen, it doesn’t mean the narrative itself is terribly straightforward. Your grasp of who represents what can be heightened or diminished by your knowledge of certain organized religions, such as the Pentecostal church.
In other words, this can be pretty confusing at times. My mind kept going to the idea of the Second Coming of Christ, and an Anti-Christ, to explain what was going on, but I could be wrong (though naming one of the characters in the film FrankenChrist leads me to believe I was in the right woods, if not entirely on the correct path). And of course, if you’re talking in tongues (and you consider the Biblical quote that opens the film), you’re probably walking down a Pentecostal road. For me at least, the idea of a quest for personal salvation being perverted by religious belief and iconography stands out regardless of the specifics.
Visually, the film has the grungy look and feel to it that seems to live in 8mm film stock (and if I’m wrong about it being shot on 8mm film, fine, but it absolutely has that aesthetic to it). This can lead to a dirty image that is sometimes too muddy for it’s own good, but considering the narrative’s own confusing nature at times, having an image that isn’t crisp or pristine is more than a little fitting. That said, scenes at night are very challenging to follow, aesthetically on-point or not.
In the end, if you asked me what A Film in Tongues is about, I’d say it was a religious quest for salvation, with all the potential pitfalls that can entail. I’d also call it an experimental film, and point out that interpretations may vary wildly. I think a theologian, for example, would have a field day with this one. For me, it was a challenging experience that I grasped probably in only the most cursory of ways, but interesting nonetheless.
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