Credit: Blake Williams/Cinéma du Réel
by Michael Sicinski Featured Film

Laberint Sequences — Blake Williams [Cinéma du Réel ’23 Review]

March 31, 2023

At times, Laberint Sequences, the new short film by Blake Williams, feels a bit like an experimental feature, despite being only 20 minutes long. That’s because the artist packs a lot of material in a relatively small space, introducing several visual ideas and subjecting them to systematic yet unanticipated permutations. The film was mostly shot at Barcelona’s Parque del Laberint d’Horta, a Neoclassical garden space that contains a large hedge maze. After beginning with a stereoscopic image of the garden, Williams provides a number of isolated views of the space, including plants and trees, a canal with fountains, and a work of classicist statuary. We also see several shots of a reflecting pool at the center of the labyrinth, with a few tourists milling about, including a couple of kids running through the space. This series of shots, like the entire film, is presented in anaglyph 3D, so in a way, Williams is both offering the viewer the basic lay of the land as well as getting us accustomed to the multi-planar depth of the 3D, and how it accentuates certain attributes of the garden while flattening others.

At this point, things start getting a bit raucous. Situating his camera at various angles of the hedges, and then panning back and forth, Williams uses the moving frame to reconfigure the visual space, the labyrinth forming solid masses that swivel across the image. Of course, we expect that we might get “lost” inside the hedge maze, but this camera movement doesn’t correspond to how any human would navigate the space. Instead, it is as though the space is shifting around us (and the occasionally still-visible humans inside). Establishing shots with a stationary camera keep giving way to these kinetic passages, which are all the more dramatic because of the use of 3D. After some digital manipulation of the image — perhaps a callback to certain motifs in Williams’ feature film PROTOTYPE — we begin to see shots looking up through the trees. At this point, aerial cable cars make their first appearance, first traversing the screen, then offering birds-eye views of the garden, and then finally a few shots from inside the moving car.

Following some brief pans inside an empty room overlooking the woods (with expansive, Mies-style windows and parquet flooring), Laberint Sequences includes shots from an old movie, in which

two women are trying to find their way through a hedge maze in the dark by candlelight. We see scan lines that suggest Williams is filming off the television monitor, and eventually, he shows us earlier scenes from the Laberint with a similar televisual abstraction. But in between, we see shots of Deragh Campbell, in her role as Audrey Benac from A Woman Escapes, last year’s feature that Williams co-directed with Burak Çevik and Sofia Bohdanowicz. Campbell is seated at a laptop watching the film in question, and, scanning through text on her phone, she speaks the women’s dialogue along with the footage. Clearly, Laberint Sequences puts the viewer through their paces, taking a fairly simple idea — a study of a manicured landscape — and introducing denser and denser layers of abstraction. From an homage to the late Michael Snow, and his panning film <—>, to a mechanically achieved birds-eye view, to an appropriation 

of relevant material from a piece of narrative cinema (“something horizontal,” we might say), and finally a performer subjecting that outside material to critical scrutiny, this film explores the many ways that a cultural landmark, usually subject to the tourist’s gaze, can be intellectually reorganized through filmic intervention. And through it all, Laberint Sequences maintains the hazy, protruding anaglyph 3D, a method that implies a promise of presence (“like being there”) but actually doubles down on the representational remove.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 13.