Most viewers, though not equipped to discern the problematics of representing indigenous communities they aren’t part of, are still able to quite meaningfully evaluate how these communities are represented. And so one may, for the Zoque people of Nuevo Guayabal, Mexico, argue against the creation and crystallization of their image by directors Tania Ximena and Yollotl Alvarado. White Night, unfortunately, embodies a general ethos of anonymity, depersonalization, and of digital alienation that reifies the margin within a still-industrial infrastructure; it’s a work of Malickian pastiche that proves derivative of what oral histories have been most frequently accused of: namely, broadening and de-particularizing their scope and subjects respectively.
The film oscillates between oneiric studies of landscape/flora and a narrative that follows the Zoque community as they unearth what used to be their town, buried under the 1982 eruption of volcano Chichonal. Through this oscillation, we are offered a sprinkling of whispered voiceovers and austere dolly-ins, while side characters repose and stare, blankly, at the lens. The atmosphere engendered, ultimately, is hackneyed: a collection of cheap and slight visual ideas cobbled together to inundate the viewer with a deeply disrespectful aestheticization of disenfranchised indigenous communities. White Night falls neatly into a category of filmmaking potentially described as “neo-ethnography,” wherein the colonial gaze has been replaced by the local yet objectification is perpetuated nonetheless. Case in point: the camera’s gaze subjects the people within the film less to conversation and more to its obsessive framing. In their attempt to rebuke how colonial subjects became educational faculties of the cameramen, Ximena and Alvarado lend themselves to failed abstraction: everyone in the frame becomes not illegible, but a mere facet of tonal experimentation. There is no intelligent attempt at converging environment and people, and what we are thus left with is a deeply uninspired reduction, sullied further by a digital sheen that wipes away any minor stab at identification.
Published as part of DOC NYC 2022 — Dispatch 3.