The entire production pipeline of the digital and material world is laid bare in Neptune Frost, a new sci-fi musical premiering at Cinema Detroit this weekend (and landing on VOD shortly after). By following a group of Rwandan miners who rise up to form a revolutionary hacker collective, directors Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman discover that worlds of possibility, while often hard-earned, await those who are willing and able to reshape their own reality. . As exploratory as the film is, however – magnetically drawn to all sorts of piercing aesthetic and political possibilities – it finds an easy sense of focus by focusing on issues of power. As the film opens, both how the tools of control are produced and who they are made for provide the long-standing, life-structuring questions of its hard-working characters in a way that should feel familiar to anyone. reader. But when the actors in the film choose to generate resources for themselves rather than for their postcolonial overlords, new horizons quickly open up.
If that sounds Marxist in tenor, it is – but labor unrest is just one of the Freeze‘s many ingredients. The aesthetic tenets of Afrofuturism are equally central to this wandering and blossoming project: the visionary aesthetic movement that fueled the local rise of Detroit techno, and which dreams of black actors transcending oppressive systems through and embracing new, often futuristic technology. Here, as is common, this scavenging work easily marries workers’ efforts to grasp the potentialities of piracy, destabilizing the technologies their destructive mining labor has so long served to produce. By taking the technologies of surveillance capitalism and redeploying them for their own ends, the film collective upends familiar and damaging financial structures, but doesn’t stop there. As they take control of their own future, their decryption project continues, with many other long-standing bastions of order and social structure falling. Here, sex is the key among them.
In this as in many other things, Freeze does not only concern the collective, but the individuals and especially the leaders who compose it. Pivoting around a central romance between Neptune (played by actors Cheryl Isheja and Elvis Ngabo in a genre-destabilizing joint effort, prompted by a breakup midway through the film) and Matalusa (Bertrand Ninteretse), the pair work to pushing towards new forms of discovery, power and enlightenment. If it sounds blurry and conceptual, like something you read in a caption on a gallery wall, then it’s not wrong; much of the film’s dialogue is delivered in an almost metaphorical register of which the same could be said. But Freeze, while at times it feels abstract and intellectually itinerant (and far-reaching) narrative, is solidly grounded in its material textures and the way it is produced. Dressed by Cédric Mizero, the film’s bold and elegant characters wear their lights, glasses and glowing ornaments like badges nodding to their own ingenuity, demonstrating on a bodily, human and expressive level the potentials that drive the film. Invested everywhere in questions of what can be designed through atmosphere, affect and texture amidst a scarcity of easy resources (a key characteristic of techno as well), Freeze benefits from artists who holistically understand their own project and its contours, grasping the political and aesthetic implications not only of the narrative, but also of how it is shaped. More exciting, they find in working within limits a path to all sorts of aesthetic discoveries; it is rarely a work that succumbs to the expected in its use of music, editing, framing or light.
For all the thematic weight the film carries, it is animated throughout with this playful approach, seeking to make anarchy and political rebellion enticing: not just a stark, dutifully undertaken political project. It’s probably most clear in the film’s approach to music, which slides in and out of styles. Any given line may be delivered unsung, in driving chants or in abrupt, overt, and more highly choreographed musical numbers, and in musical and lyrical styles from a wide range of genres and traditions. At the same time, the film’s futuristic world bears the mark of new, old and imaginary technologies, and its many elements are informed by a sense of real vitality; even when the camera plunges entire frames into deep shadows or silhouettes, accents of the film’s rich palette shine through. The filmmakers are so caught up with the aesthetic potentials that they find they make little room for piety on screen either – always a trait best left absent even for works that seem politically ” righteous”.
The effect of all this is exactly what must be found in the artistic style: exalted by a sense of constant quest, FreezeThe filmmakers seem aware of mood, style, and possibility in a way that has long been, but feels especially rare lately. While there’s a lot to follow here in terms of narrative thread, it would be just as easy – and at least as fun – to just bask in Freezethe refined atmosphere and style of , feeling it more like a lyric than a thread. Whether taken for its aesthetic virtues or struggling with other terms, Freeze manages to feel intellectually agile, viewed holistically, and emotionally full. Fully aware of the potentials available in their own craft, Williams and Uzeyman’s hard work clearly seems to be its own reward.
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