Credit: Locarno Film Festival/Eduardo Williams
by Zach Lewis Featured Film

The Human Surge 3 — Eduardo Williams [Locarno ’23 Review]

August 11, 2023

Though comfortably placed in the more adventurous screening programs at film festivals, Eduardo Williams’ work has also managed to stand proudly independent of the dominant trends in arthouse film culture. These films are ethnographic studies without being rigorously academic, slow without making “slowness” a core part of the work, and mostly joyous studies of people at the global margins. In this writer’s experience, Williams’ shorts have always stood out compared to his peers, prompting a small, cult-like festival-going contingent who eagerly anticipated the director’s first feature, The Human Surge in 2016. His previous Could See a Puma (2011) and I Forgot! (2014) seemed like formal experiments that, while stunning, could not sustain a feature-length runtime, but The Human Surge cleverly composited several Williams projects into a poetic meditation on how we connect to one another on a global stage. Cheap 16mm vignettes of young men walking, talking, or sex-camming suddenly gave way to sequences in ant hills and tablet factories, until the film ends in a pristine digital image; it was shot all over the world in at least three different formats with no narrative, but, despite its ambitious scope, it miraculously never comes across as pompous. Williams had practically invented the arthouse hangout film; how could he follow it up?

Well, he didn’t. There is no sequel to The Human Surge, but here’s The Human Surge 3, admittedly a very funny title and a clever way to temper expectations about what the film will be. Like the first, this film also takes place across the globe (officially listed: Argentina, Portugal, Netherlands, Taiwan, Brazil, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Peru) with a focus on humid villages and rural landscapes. Conversations among the characters form more of a textural fabric to village life rather than any kind of narrative, and many times the camera even wanders away from everyone in favor of a new group or a serene shot of water. But, that’s not to say that the people here are unimportant or not worth listening to — even when the film is focused on a river or a landscape, faint conversations may reveal that there have been people just offscreen the entire time, likely enamored into a comfortable silence by the same selection of nature that caused the camera to stand still. Then, there is the camera itself, the always-roaming protagonist of Williams’ film that follows its own points of interest rather than methodically framing and centering other subjects. It’s akin to watching those videos of Go-Pros strapped to outdoor cats as they roam parts of the neighborhood inaccessible to humans, but one can detect a personality behind the camera movements as it sometimes overstays its welcome and sometimes leaves when bored.

Though, this is no spycam venture, nor is it merely observational drama. Location scouting is obviously Williams’ strong suit, as a small, surreal village with colorful spherical houses (one fashioned to look like fruit) forms the background of the opening walk, only to end on a character’s inexplicable collapse. There’s a packed dance party scene that takes place in a river where cheap stage lights illuminate the wet, indistinguishable bodies into abstract, morphing color sequences against the camera’s digital grain. And even during scenes that feel naturalistic, almost like a Courbet painting, digital interference or sudden digital tracking — in one instance suddenly zooming in and following the erratic movement of a bird — interrupt the moment before the camera gets up and continues on its walk. If one is lulled into thinking this may just be a collection of cute slice-of-life moments, there will always be a strange image waiting to jolt them awake. And while most of the film appears to adopt a human-like POV, shot at eye-level with a wide-angle lens, the final sequence — shot with a 360-degree VR camera where forward and backward are transposed as left-to-right on our 2D screens — opts for images and spaces we can only dream.

Williams’ first Surge hinted at themes of connection through the Internet, canals, roads, and other long rhizomes we’ve invented to patch us together, no matter how remote we may live. While 3 still plays with walks and meet-ups, there’s something more mysterious at work here, as none of the sequences relate to each other in any literal sense. But Williams is comfortable with that degree of mystery. He, like Georges Méliès, delivers a magic show.


Published as part of Locarno Film Festival 2023 — Dispatch 1.