June 12, 2017

„My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them“

In the last competition Fiction & Documentary programme block of this year’s VIS, titled “Words Don’t Come Easy”, we had the chance to enjoy an essayistic documentary film titled Nature: All Rights Reserved by the Dutch director Sebastian Mulder. It is, not surprisingly, about. Actually, to be more precise – it is a film about relationship between nature proper and its manmade surrogates. After the intro quote by American stand-up comedian Mitch Hedberg – “My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them” – we are shown a succession of various manifestations of fake nature in denaturized urban environments. These examples of “fakeness” are organized into almost taxonomical units with titles such as: “Passed Nature”, “Disguised Nature”, “Fictional Nature”, and so on. “Fictional Nature”, for example, displays a wholly fictional world of a water park: we see people swimming under the giant dome and painted sky and pretending they are not surrounded by elaborate surrogates but by actual nature.

Mulder approaches the theme very light-heartedly, and with a lot of humour. However, this does not seem like the optimal approach. The reason for this is the ironic detachment from the theme that Mulder’s humour produces. The theme is too involving and serious to just be reduced to a little joke.

It seems as if Mulder neutered his own film when he decided not to take it seriously. A shot of a hospital bed under a ceiling of fake greenery, with a background sound of a flatlined ECG could move a viewer to tears when he or she realises that these urban animals, deprived of nature, die under cheap prints of this same nature – returning to her forever. Instead, what we get is a feeling of blasé because what we see is not serious, it is just a cute trick.

In the ultra hermetic block of films, Nature: All Rights Reserved brought a welcome gust of fresh air – dealing with a theme that is pervasive, but somehow often overlooked. Meanwhile, the rest of the films – Small Town by Diogo Costa Amarante from Portugal, Oh What a Wonderful Feeling by François Jaros from Canada, and Limbo by Konstantina Kotzamani from Greece – at times suffered from the opposite problem: taking themselves too seriously (especially Limbo!). In this context, Mulder’s film could borrow some of this ingredient from his peers. Persistent insistence on the “All Rights Reserved” joke from the title, made Mulder’s approach seem overly aggressive. Would this film lose all that much of its artistic edge if the title was just Nature?

Dinko Štimac