Those That, At a Distance, Resemble Another: Handcrafted and handsome to watch

Review: Jessica Sarah Rinland’s film recalls TV programmes of the 1970s

Most of the film comprises those close-up shots of fingers working away at grey substances.

Film Title: Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another

Director: Jessica Sarah Rinland

Starring:

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 67 min

Fri, Apr 9, 2021, 05:00

   

There are, in Jessica Sarah Rinland’s new film, spooky reminders of ancient craft documentaries that used to appear on quiet corners of BBC2 while everyone else was watching The Generation Game. And it’s not just the subject matter: this economic film, playing now on Mubi, details the restoration of an ivory box, the recreation of an elephant tusk and other related tasks. 

The flavour of the images also adds to that retro sensibility. Shot in 16mm with narrow ratio, Those That, At a Distance, Resemble Another could easily be mistaken for an emanation of the 1970s – the director’s own pinkly varnished fingernails press home the case – were it not for the appearance of contemporary technology such as a 3-D printing.

Most of the film comprises those close-up shots of fingers working away at grey substances. The sharp sound and tightly bound images give a good impression of the techniques while leaving a certain amount of mystery as to the purposes of each operation. 

Indeed, the film seems torn between letting our imaginations run and telling us a little too much. A largely ambiguous experimental documentary is bookended by more explanatory subtitles than you would expect to encounter in a historical epic about the Battle of the Bulge.

The lack of incident forces the viewer into pondering the questions being implicitly asked. Do we say anything worth saying when we describe a work of art as “original”? Is the film itself a copying the copies or is it of value as another original? (At least one critic has wondered if digitising the Super 16 footage counts as yet another exercise in performative reproduction.)

All this debate is, perhaps, a little too much for such a short, quiet film to comfortably bear. Even if you engage with none of the ideas you can, however, sink into the calm of Rinland’s soothing images. They used to say the footage of a potter’s wheel that filled up dead air in television’s Precambrian age was more enjoyable than the programmes themselves. Rinland may or may not savour the comparison.

Streaming on MUBI from April 7th