Wednesday 9 October 2019

#21XOXO / The Sasha (S. & I. Özbilge / M. M. Peiró, 2019)

The Culture is a collection of eight short films which screens at the London Film Festival on the 11th and 13th of October, and every film in the programme takes a look at online culture - something which only recently seemed very futuristic but is now firmly embedded in our everyday lives.  I've only seen a quarter of the films which feature in The Culture, but the ones I've watched have been quite impressive; on this basis, the other 75% of the programme should be worth catching.  The selection includes one film from the Netherlands and two from Belgium, although Belgian title Zombies - a co-production with DR Congo - has thus far eluded me.

The Belgian film in the programme which I have seen is #21XOXO - a clever, witty and rather adult slice of animation which sees a young woman use various forms of technology in her search for love.  As we all know, it's now possible to line up potential partners without even leaving the comfort of home, which is exactly what our protagonist does here; while such practice isn't especially new, it's nonetheless a significant marker of how social interaction has dramatically changed since the advent of new technologies, and the film reminds us of this as it forces us to consider our online selves.  #21XOXO is a fun, refreshing and colourful short, one which turns up something new just when you thought there wasn't much left to say about those who spend their days glued to one screen or another.

The Dutch offering in The Culture takes the form of The Sasha, a contemplative look at the work of astronaut Charles Duke, who was a member of the three-man crew on the Apollo 16 mission.  Among his other lunar duties, Duke was charged with taking photographs, and it's this aspect of his work in the Descartes Highlands that The Sasha focuses on.  Duke attempted to take a photo of the entire Earth from space, but the iconic image we all know as The Blue Marble was actually taken during the next (and final) Apollo mission.  There's a fascinating personal touch in the Apollo 16 story: Duke left a picture of himself, his wife and their two sons on the lunar surface, which he of course photographed.  On the back was an inscription: "This is the family of Astronaut Duke from Planet Earth. Landed on the Moon, April 1972", followed by the signatures of Duke's family.  In addition to their virtual visit to the moon via this photograph, Duke's wife and sons had lunar craters named after them. 

Nowadays, we can all enjoy a lunar excursion of sorts thanks to Google Moon (where the Duke family photo can be found at marker 20 in the Apollo 16 site), and footage from this has been used in The Sasha; thus, the film features the traditional chemical photography of Duke's pictures alongside the sophisticated 3D rendering of the moon's surface as provided by Google.  This illustrates just how far technology has advanced in the years since Apollo 16 (although we haven't set foot on the moon since the year of that mission).  As such, it's easy to see why the film has been grouped with #21XOXO, even if the two films boast very different styles.  The Sasha proves to be a hypnotic, eerie and thought-provoking work, one which will leave you reflecting on that old family photograph which, although now almost certainly bleached beyond all recognition, remains up there on the lunar highlands.

Darren Arnold