Credit: Viera Čákanyová
by Morris Yang Featured Film

Notes From Eremocene — Viera Čákanyová [Berlinale ’23 Review]

February 28, 2023

With Notes from Eremocene, experimental documentary filmmaker Viera Čákanyová rounds off her informal “post-human trilogy” comprising 2019’s FREM — a futurist meditation on the Antarctic landscape — and 2020’s White on White, which documented her filmmaking and artistic processes while shooting FREM. This third entry, like its predecessors, examines the potentials and pitfalls of humanity’s tenuous relationship with artificial intelligence, while integrating into its conceptual framework the subject of blockchain technology. Čákanyová hits on the cryptocurrency fervor that blew up and out in the last decade, albeit indirectly; her explicit focus is both phenomenological and political. Phenomenological, because of how the film envisions a reality of vector spaces within which amorphous, disembodied consciousness dwells; and political, given the many said and unsaid implications such a disjointed world portends for society at large. How people work, organize, and live is thus central to Notes from Eremocene, whose titular epoch denotes — as coined by E.O. Wilson, an American biologist — an “age of loneliness” and speaks, more than ever, to civilization’s yearning for connection in a time ironically characterized by its networks, social and digital.

Shot in video-essay style and often teeming with talking points, Notes from Eremocene, unfortunately, remains mired in cacophony, its structure and presentation acquiring the enthusiasm of grad-school filmmaking but lacking the discipline necessary for clarity and, crucially, captivation. Much of this feature, the themes of which probably befit an arthouse installation better, numbingly throws out key signifiers without unpacking their relevance to contemporary socio-political thought. All this is in the pursuit of Čákanyová’s primary conceit, of a recently uploaded consciousness (of the director herself) seeking, in the near future, to come to terms with the present now past: buzzwords appear, as in a search index, formulated as semantic clusters literalized as such on screen. But this pursuit pays a hefty price with an oft-inaccessible and self-indulgent rumination about Bitcoin and decentralized autonomous organization — the former’s elusive founder, Satoshi Nakamoto, is depicted naked swimming and diagnosed as one of the first victims of the loneliness age, retreating into depressive solitude — that’s also supposed to double as a cathartic representation of Covid-era anxieties.

There’s something to be said about formalist bravery, and to Čákanyová’s credit, she splices and conjoins image and sound in frequently unsettling, even hallucinatory ways. A black hole rendition gravitating into oblivion, synced to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “Higgs Boson Blues,” tempts one to issue the hauntological label. But such is the profound and oblique abstraction writ large in Notes from Eremocene that terms like “hauntological” quickly lose salience, and — as is the postmodern tendency — find themselves easily substituted with hazy language gloss. Perhaps the intent is such; but it doesn’t quite excuse the film’s flimsy logical organization. As a commentary on humankind’s “evolutionary dead end” amidst a digital anthropocene inflected largely with pessimism, it fails to intrigue, much less interest, the viewer. In contrast with, say, Michel Houellebecq’s vulgarly defiant novel Atomised, Čákanyová merely summarizes its landscape of ideas without synthesizing them.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 8.5.