Filmmaker Slawomir Milewski’s Ecstasy of St. Agnes opens with the phrase “everything is repeated, everything is repetitive,” and the film does not back down from that idea. Predominantly in black and white, with occasional snippets of color footage, the short film is an orchestra of looped and manipulated sounds and images, coupled with a mixture of voiceover, resulting in an artistic experience more so than a straightforward narrative. Or not.
Experimental films of any length are difficult to critique, mainly because what you’re viewing is not as easy to pin down with normal frames of reference. Does this film tell a narrative story? Does it even try to do so? What exactly is its goal? Does it even have one? In the case of a film like this, you almost have to pocket the more technical way of reviewing a film and go at it from a more experiential and emotional view.
So how does Ecstasy of St. Agnes make me feel? Sometimes it felt like I was watching a long-form music video for an experimental industrial band, what with all the audio distortions and interpretive dancing contortions, but other times the soundtrack was an abundance of ponderous voiceover. And due to the repetitive nature of the audio and visual loops, often I was lulled into a bit of trance, only to be disrupted by the change-up in loop.
I sometimes wonder, when I watch films like this that feel like a patchwork of random footage mixed with more obvious staged imagery, whether the entirety of the used footage was shot for that specific purpose, or if the filmmaker just found a way to re-purpose extraneous footage and included it within. I guess it’s a question of intention; was it a case of making something from a collection of disconnected nothing, held together with a planned artistic thread here or there, or was the purpose for all the imagery known at the moment of capture?
At times the film was intriguing, and at other times the ponderous quotations and pacing was too much to handle, and the film started to drag along. Whether the ideas it was trying to express, if any at all, got across in the 20 minute timeframe, I can’t say. I experienced Ecstasy of St. Agnes, and then it was done and I moved on. It was an oddity in my day, but did not impact me much beyond that.
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