A Life with No Beginning or End: "Three Sparks" review

English Daily #2
Three Sparks (2023) / International Competition
Naomi Uman
13.7 12:30 Moscow Cinema, Blue Hall
14-7 17:30 Moscow Cinema, Blue Hall

Three Sparks requires as much reading as it does viewing. Full of descriptive title cards, this personal semi-experimental documentary by Naomi Uman, which had its world premiere in IFFR’s Tiger Competition, conveys her journey into rural Albania, the village of Rabdisht, where locals still abide by the Kanun, a book of laws and customs dating back to the fifteenth century. Best described as an experimental ethnographic travelog, the film is divided into three very distinct parts, each done in their own style with no apparent beginning, middle or end, just as the locals’ way of life seems to be.

Sped up and surreal scenes of Uman in her travels are followed by black and white 16mm footage of the villagers going on about their daily rural work with no spoken words, just inaudible chatter and nature sounds, all entwined together in a seemingly endless soundscape. With detailed written descriptions of local customs, especially ones relating to gender roles and gender norms, the people start to seem like specimens in a museum. Finally, in the third spark, color and natural sounds come back and the people fully come to life, as the fish-eyed lens camera is passed around between the director and the village folk. Medieval customs are also alive as ever, as the proactive Uman herself gets mistaken for a man and has to be defended by village kids. Neither a condemnation, nor an approval of this peculiar set of laws, Uman's film is simply a very personal examination of a way of life, done in a peculiar disregard for all conventions of narrative documentary filmmaking.

Artur Vardikyan