Culture

Blindly probing the human condition

BEIRUT: Blindness is a special sort of limbo. At least that’s how sightlessness is represented by a culture awash in images, imaging and other audiovisual effluvia.In a world designed for the sighted, blindness means exclusion.

Naturally “blindness” and its synonyms (“shortsightedness,” “myopia,” etc.) have long since become metaphors for intellectual and emotional impairment – egoism, prejudice, racism, stupidity.

In “Blind,” the 2014 directorial debut of Oslo-born screenwriter Eskil Vogt, an urbane woman named Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) narrates how her life has been overcome by sudden blindness.

Vogt remains true to the emotional blow that vision loss is for his stern-faced protagonist, using Ingrid’s predicament to mine a more endemic sort of blindness – how ultimately unknowable we are to each other.

The film leaps in feetfirst. Ingrid’s tactic for navigating her once-sighted life, she explains, is to constantly exercise her memory, visualizing the people, things and places she’s known. The method has its limits, as the optic nerve eventually atrophies without the eyes’ visual stimulation.

As the story unfolds, it’s obvious a major part of the plot is Ingrid’s choice to closet herself in the flat she shares with her husband and soon after establishing her condition the narrator’s attention shifts to him.

A pony-tailed, potato-shaped man named Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt) is shown slouched before a computer while Ingrid explains how he is at once obsessed with internet pornography and ashamed of his obsession. Though never explicitly stated, it’s assumed his fixation stems from his wife’s recent blindness and much of what we see in the film is Ingrid’s imagining what he gets up to, both when he’s online and when he leaves her alone at home during the day and in the evening.

Though Einar’s explored various sexual fetishes online – naked men surrounded by clothed women, for example – he eventually settles into a more banal porno groove and, as she notes, no form of audiovisual documentation of coitus gets him off as much as being in proximity to flesh-and-blood women (walking down the street, standing on escalators).

Then one evening, while applying moisturizer, he notices a blond woman in a flat across the street applying moisturizer. He watches as she moves to the living room and turns on the television. He turns on the TV and flicks to the same channel, where two talk show guests discuss whether it would be harder to adjust to blindness or deafness.

The anonymous woman laughs. Einar laughs. Listening to the conversation from the kitchen, Ingrid too laughs. She then shares the backstory of the woman across the street, Elin (Vera Vitali), and sketches her husband’s growing infatuation with her.

As the character of this lonely, alienated man is elaborated – and you’ve begun to wonder how Einar could possible fit into Ingrid’s frosty but assuredly competent life – the face she visualizes for her husband abruptly changes and he answers to the name Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen).

Chatting with her husband while preparing for bed one night, the narrator “sees” Morten watching her, and she commences a little striptease for him – the viewer by now is aware that sensuality fled their marriage with her vision. She then hears the tap of computer keys arising from the direction of the bed.

“Are you working?”

He’s got some last-minute emails to attend to, he explains, before the big project he’s unveiling at the weekend. In fact, as Ingrid shows us, her husband is not answering emails. Instead he is finding sexual solace – not via internet porn, as before, but through a smutty online chat with a woman he’s never met, named Elin. As Ingrid is lying alongside him as he taps the keys, her humiliation is palpable.

The web of extramarital sexuality surrounding Ingrid’s newfound state of blindness is further complicated as she tells the story of Morten and Einar being old high school acquaintances who meet one afternoon in a cinema lobby. Afterward they chat in a cafe – or is it a train’s coach section? – swapping stories about what’s become of their lives.

“Blind,” which screens tonight at Metropolis Cinema-Sofil, is the most-lauded art-house work of the cinema’s present cycle of recent Norwegian films. Its prizes include the international screenwriting award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and the grand prize for new talent at Denmark’s CPH:PIX festival.

Shot with cool detachment by Thimios Bakatakis – the Greek DP behind indie works like “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “The Lobster,” “Dogtooth,” and “Attenberg” – the film is driven by the relentless sensuality of Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Vogt’s assured writing.

Relating the story of a husband’s extramural life from the perspective of his recently blinded wife – an essentially unreliable narrator – is a masterful premise for a feature film. As the narrative threads are entangled in what seems irrational and impossible ways, the viewer begins to sense that the housebound narrator has driven herself irrevocably mad.

She’s just a writer, of course, an accomplished touch typist, sublimating her blindness to a comic melodrama of our human condition.

“Blind” will screen at Metropolis Cinema-Sofil on Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. For more, see www.metropoliscinema.net/2017/blind/.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 06, 2017, on page 16.

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