a film by Dimitar Kutmanov

A Visual Appreciation
by Martin Wetherill

‘I am always fascinated how an image can speak in abstract terms. It can make you see the world in a sort of primordial state – a state preceding knowledge.’
— Interview with director Dimitar Kutmanov by Nadin Mai

It is this ontology of cinema that fascinates me too in Dimitar Kutmanov’s remarkable short film. Discounting the Christian implication of the films’s title Ecce Homo I was deeply entranced by the visuals alone, and would have preferred not to have heard dialogue or read subtitles. I make an appreciative exception for the film’s masterful sound track which reminded me of the way in which Mexican director Carlos Reygadas uses diegetic (actual) sound to transfer information and transmit mood and feeling over a partially lit screen.

After the prologue a single piano note announces the title, and for me that was all I needed to enter into the cinematic catharsis of Ecce Homo, where Kutmanov’s visuals illuminate a personal interior narrative far better than dialogue and voice over can ever do. (An exception could be made for a Terrance Malick monologue)

I saw Ada the young girl in the film in many guises the least significant for me was as a caring daughter to a presumed suffering infirmed mother. For in the primordial visual state (that Kutmanov refers) before characterisation can occur I identified her as both an edenic innocence (delightfully enjoying a moment refreshing herself with water from the well, or on a swing) and as a personification of the human condition (inspite of the suffering in the world we must simply go on and chop wood) But I also saw her as the temporal energy in the world, that appears many times in the film as a fragile candle flame. The candle carrying scene in Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia conveys a similar impermanence to me.

Ecce Homo Scene

Her walk or rather wade through the tree swamp to be anointed by her mother denotes for me the cyclic nature of karmic events, as she will anoint or wash the feet of her mother in a later scene. Appearing as a reflection in the window pane that the mother is looking out of into the world, reveals that she and all is illusion, and that behind this troubled temporal world on earth, exists the eternal calm and peace of an afterlife, portrayed as a serene country landscape.

But these visual associations are the narrative triggers that I indulge, more importantly for me is the way Kutmanov uses darkness on the screen. This is where I think he delineates himself from other master practitioners of slow cinema like BélaTarr and Reygadas. There is no ultra long one take in the film but there is a unique use of darkness to illuminate. Not just in the way a Caravaggio painting uses chiaroscuro lighting technique to illuminate a dramatic decisive moment, but in the way a Kutmanov montage leads us into a totally dark or only partially lit screen. If we are willing to be led into the absence of light we will find hidden worlds in this blackness. For me this was the most wonderful captivating surprise about this film, that the absence of an image on screen can evoke a deeper image inside me. The visual power of the Imageination at work. This would have been a powerful experience viewed in a darkened cinema. Did prehistoric cave painters show their work in the same manner, with intermittent total darkness accompanying a flickering candle flame - preverbal primordial cinema. I wonder? As I mentioned his use of sound, minimal chords and solitary piano notes as a visual accomplice to this experience of darkness is masterful.

I could have done without the soulful Dostoyevskian soliloquy at the end of the film. For me this director showed profound illumination with minimal distractions, and by composing images that speak in a pre knowledge primordial state, Ecce Homo delivers perhaps the ultimate benediction of light onto a screen.

— Martin Wetherill July 2017