Directors: Michael Glawogger, Monica Willi
Cast: Fiona Shaw
Watch Untitled online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“The most beautiful film I could imagine is one which would never come to rest,” said Michael Glawogger, as he embarked on his final project: a film that would see him tour the globe for months with his trusted crew to capture the wonder of the world. 4 months and 19 days into his journey, though, he died tragically from Malaria. Years later, his collaborator and friend, Monica Willi, has assembled the footage he filmed into a poignant piece of experimental cinema.
Capturing life in its myriad forms is a nigh impossible feat, but Untitled enters into that challenge with Glawogger’s roaming spirit firmly at its heart: there is no narrative here, and often no explanatory text to tell us where we are or where we’re going. Instead, we’re treated to a montage of videos from all corners of the planet. It’s a non-linear strategy that recalls Baraka or the more recent Cameraperson by Kirsten Johnson, and, just as a visual experience, Untitled is equally mesmerising, thanks to its beautifully composed shots of diverse locations and landscapes.
Willi does find parallels in the cross-cut footage, as we witness the growth of human life all over, the struggle it takes to survive and the impact that humanity’s expanding presence can have upon nature in return. Connections, conflict, decomposing camel heads; all life is here and in vivid detail. Fights break out, among humans as well as donkeys – a reminder, perhaps, of how much we have in common.
That’s as close as the film gets to a theme or focus, and viewers wanting something more accessible may find themselves frustrated, but refraining from such an imposition does, in itself, give the film a structure and direction: it’s an aimless, drifting portrait (a fair chunk of the film is spent journeying and traversing), one shaped by a curiosity that makes it feel surprisingly pointed. Milli combines the footage with extracts from Glawogger’s diary – read, with passion, by Fiona Shaw – and his voice and artistic vision give what we’re seeing a poignant personality.
That helps to shape the project’s overall world-view, which is grounded in Glawogger’s aims and impressions, rather than in any objective attempt to document societies and cultures. (“Jungle of Eden, Garden of Hell” appears as an evocative title card, as the movie draws to a close.) The result is as much a tribute to a lost friend and filmmaker as it is an ode to life on a wider scale, a moving farewell to an artist that continues his work even after he’s come to rest.