By Mónica Delgado

In its first minutes, Rouzbeh Rashidi‘s Phantom Islands (Ireland, 2018) poses as a foundational fable: a woman and a man wake up in a new environment to discover. Under this look, the filmmaker places the characters in limbo, between a dream and the rarified space or environment, turning this island in a stylized surrounding, or distorted, something to be reinvented.

Rashidi, of Iranian origins, currently living in Ireland, is a filmmaker that over thirty films has explored the possibilities of digital and analogue format from the terrains of experimental cinema. In Phantom Islands, though, a different kind of purpose is perceived, a purpose which seeks to deepen the use (or the ways) of the employed dispositive: the diffumination of the frontiers between documentary and fiction. From this stylistic option, Rashidi oscillates from the spontaneous registry of space and the natural life of the island, and placing in it the two Eden-like characters of fiction, a couple of Adan and Eve, who together observe and question the nature of their relation in contrast to this island that seems to have them trapped.

Out of focus shots, use of different effects, colorization or intervention of “reality” make the tale escape from any naturalism of documentary halo. As the title says, the “phantom island” takes a physical dimension that the filmmaker tries to translate to the instinct of two bodies in constant interaction or conflict. Thus, the vision of intervention of the documentary registry becomes more tangible in the observation of the performatic: bodies of sexual desire, bodies dreaming, or bloody bodies. However, Rashidi also captures the moments where the actors are aware of this registry, making evident the resources of cinema magic. Then, for Rashidi, the documentary effect may result as simple in some moments: for example, when it leaves in evidences that the fiction breaks whenever someone of the production team appears in scene. What first was a weird fiction between two characters thrown in an stylized island, changes in its intention due to the need of revealing the mechanisms of registry or realization, in some cases, in not a very subtle way.

If there’s an intention to elaborate a discourse towards this indissoluble dialectic between documentary registry and fiction, through the mise en scene of some dispositives (handheld cameras, subjective points of view, naturalistic shots, presence of the community), Rashidi lets himself get carried by a poetic pretention that ultimately draws upon this confluence of “realities” presented to the camera. The phantom island remains too “materialized” in its intentions and fears.

The value of Phantom Islands relies not only in how Rashidi works the abstraction of the island, but also in the apparition of two young experimental filmmakers as actors, Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais, who interpret the tormented couple, whose gazes is the rarified sieve that governs it all.

Image, sound and editing: Rouzbeh Rashidi
Cast: Daniel Fawcett y Clara Pais
Producers: Conor Horgan, Maximilian Le Cain and Atoosa Pour Hosseini
Music: Amanda Feery, Cinema Cyanide
Directing assistant: Jann Clavadetscher
Producer: Katie Mc Fadden
Colorization: Michael Higgins
Ireland, 2018