Seen at IFFR, Rotterdam (Netherlands)

Format: Cinema

Director: Niles Atallah

Writer: Niles Atallah

Cast: Claudio Riveros, Rodrigo Lisboa

Chile, France, Netherlands, Germany, Qatar 2016

90 mins

Rey is to be admired for the vision, commitment and sheer determination of the filmmaker.

Perhaps the sheer eclecticism of the producers behind Rey – from Chile, France, Netherlands, Germany and Qatar – somehow echos the sheer eclecticism of the film itself. This wildly ambitious, experimental piece, which had its World Premiere at IFFR as part of the Hivos Tiger Competition, transcends many of the criticisms made of the previous films while at the same time ironically embracing many of those same critiques. It’s visionary, brave, memorable, but it also occasionally slips off of that aesthetic and intellectual tightrope of pretension/non-pretension, with little chance of this particular dialectic finding (or even seeking) resolution.

The PR claims that the director, Niles Atallah, shot segments of the film as early as 2011 and ‘buried the 35mm, 16mm, and 8mm film in his back garden’ for later inclusion in Rey as narrative devices to illustrate ‘deteriorating memories’, wild visions of the protagonist’s developing madness, and to raise ‘problems of history and memory’ by including these degraded visual and aural images into the final film. Atallah also developed his story with plotting devices such as puppets, masks and stop-motion animation, in addition to the scratched and disfigured celluloid exhumations. These devices and more are brought to bear on a story about a real-life but largely forgotten19th-century French lawyer and adventurer named Orélie-Antoine de Tounens, who travelled to Patagonia bearing a written constitution – composed by himself – and declared himself King. He travelled a difficult journey through untrammeled wilderness before reaching his destination and meeting with the local Mapuche tribes, who he undertook to rule over but also protect. He later minted coins, designed a flag and appointed ministers to his ‘kingdom’, which was not endorsed by French or Chilean authorities. Considered to be mad, he pressed on with his plans for the rest of his life, and after legal proceedings and deportation, finally died back in France.

The film recounts the story using experimental cinematic methods that culminate in a theatrical experience where Norman McLaren meets Terry Gilliam meets Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, mixed with Fitzcarraldo. And even this description of some of the DNA that can be discerned in Atallah’s film doesn’t quite do it justice. Rey is a singular work and is to be admired for the vision, commitment and sheer determination of the filmmaker. The film is successful in many ways, but does occasionally slip into self-conscious affectation and slightly pretentious artifice. In the days of Midnight Movies – aided and abetted by certain psychotropic ‘refreshments’ – where the likes of El Topo, 2001: a Space Odyssey and Eraserhead triumphed, I think Rey would have found a theatrical home.

James B. Evans