Next in our East End Film Festival review series is “The Visit“, by writer-director (but not actor) Michael Madsen. Constructed as a speculative documentary, the film asks: how would we react, officially, if visited by intelligent life from outer space?
The narrative unfolds with a series of interviews with men and women who hold titles such as “Theologian, Ethics Advisor to the French Space Agency” and “Chief, Committee, Policy & Legal Affairs Section, UN Office for Outer Space Affairs”*. So you know it is going to be a heady and well thought out discussion. These dialogues are intercut with a montage of vaguely related shots of everyday life – crowds of commuters, modern architecture, and so forth – as well as staged imagery of people hopping around in space suits and the like.
The cinematography is beautiful and the subject is fascinating and there was obviously a huge amount of time and money put into the film, so it’s quite disappointing that it never quite jibes as a cohesive project. Shot in super slo-motion, the pace is so, so incredibly tedious. This coming from someone who was absolutely absorbed by films such as Michael Haneke’s “Cache”, and Gus Van Sant’s “Gerry”, so I’m not one easily put off by tedium but in the case of “The Visit”, Madsen seems, for reasons beyond me, to deliberately attempt you into a nap. Saying that, though, what I discovered when I closed my eyes was that I was no longer distracted by the visuals and I could simply listen to these brilliant minds at work. Are the aliens here to learn from us? Did they know we were here? Are they meaning to do us harm? What does the inside of their ship look like? How do their minds work? Why aren’t they talking back? All great questions, and a shame there wasn’t an opportunity for answers.
So in summary: I was fascinated by this topic and these people, but I wouldn’t’ve been happy to spend £12 to see this at the cinema. Instead, I’d much rather catch a re-edited version on television or, better yet, listen to this version on the radio while stuck in traffic or at the office.
* Who knew the UN even had an office for Outer Space Affairs?