Ruptures at LFF: an experimental, political noir triumph
Ruptures, an experimental, fragmented noir co-directed by Brad Butler and Noorafshan Mirza, hits the sweet spot. As an experimental work – something suited to gallery exhibition as much as cinematic – it’s pretty accessible and entertaining. But, as a neo-noir, it lands in the top-end of post-modern fuckery – somewhere between the reality/fantasy play of Mulholland Drive and the dreamy, introspective refraction of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Beautiful to look at, well-acted, and viscerally political, this is an art-noir for the #MeToo age.
In 1996, a car crash in Turkey claimed the lives of an MP, the deputy chief of the Istanbul Police Department, and a contract killer. The incident kicked off what would become known as the Susurluk scandal – a public outrage that questioned the relationship between the government, the armed forces and crime. In the great political tradition of the noir genre, Ruptures takes inspiration from this event (without openly stating so in the film itself) to question the seedy nexus between these three parties. But more so than that, it takes post-modern aim at that very nexus to bring up a very different, topical relationship between these three people – they were all men.
Conjuring the spirit of an oft-forgotten fourth party in the crash – the contract killer’s girlfriend, here represented by an unrelated, scarlet-dressed femme fatale named Yenge – Butler and Mirza initially have her silenced by the violent, masculine tirades of her co-passengers. As the car flies down a murky lost highway towards a pre-set destination, we’re encouraged to reflect on how the corruption embedded within this imaginary society embodies the prohibitive effect of the patriarchal world on female progress. These monolithic authorities – The Government, The Authorities, The Underworld – brush off Yenge’s occasional comments with casual condescension, gatekeeping the upper echelons of control to an incestuous male cult.
Remarkably, this politically dense piece of revisionist history comes off as a woozily evocative noir, with crimson break lights punctuating the darkness, and magnesium flashes of surreal imagery both creating a dreamlike atmosphere and advancing the thematic tensions of the piece.
Butler and Mirza put forward an ideological thesis – that the destination of this very vehicle represents a ‘rupture’ in politics; the car crash a violent undoing of the knots that bound together this oppressive system. After that event happens – around 20 minutes into this 70-minute work – all our characters are, in a literal sense, dead, but the car journey restarts. The film is now doubly dreamlike, with views from the windows taken up by flickering projections that make it look like we’re travelling diagonally – as opposed to forwards – through a strange personal reflection of a noirish landscape. Our male character’s shirts are ripped and splattered in blood, though the blood is merely red thread, stitched permanently onto white cotton lapels.
In this ether, where concepts such as ‘life’ and ‘death’ are rendered irrelevant, the film becomes doubly political, with Yenge’s emerging voice-over reclaiming the piece and becoming the predominant guiding force. Our destination is now ‘The Gossip’ – a campfire circle akin to the one we saw at Cannes with Portrait of a Lady on Fire – where women gather to support one another and to discuss relevant issues. Although all these characters speak in different, unsubtitled languages, short English phrases follow their statements which get to the very heart of the issues they were discussing. In other words, their cultures and native tongues cross borders thousands of miles apart, but they are, in a deeper sense, speaking the same language – travelling towards the same goal of equality.
Interspersed with all of this – there’s more – are sequences of surreal, impactful performance art that see women clothed in the same femme fatale robes as Yenge literally binding themselves with nails to trees, before cathartically setting themselves free; or a young person of colour trying to escape pre-coded oppression and submissive muscle memory by soaring birdlike from unseen chains.
At times, admittedly, this heady cocktail does get a little too much, and oversteps its welcome by indulging in lazier popular politics (AKA a protracted scene whose ideological import is basically that women have it harder than men, as if we didn’t already know) or excessively long sequences of performance art – once we’ve got the point, we’ve got the point. But the overall mixture of political video installation and neon neo-noir, combined with a refreshingly brisk run-time, is so captivating that any draggy points are almost instantly forgotten.
In a news report following the car crash – which may or may not be authentic (I’m guessing not), we’re told of the three male victims – their names and professions – before the disembodied voice adds, as an afterthought, “a woman is also reported to have died in the crash”. Nameless, profession-less, pointless – forgotten. But in the wake of that tragedy, Ruptures sows the seeds of rebellion – demonstrating how the very revolution we’re seeing now is less of a remarkable, miraculous event than an inevitability. “Nobody leaves home”, Yenge tells us, “unless home is the mouth of a shark. And if they live there, then leaving is no miracle.” Wiser words have rarely been spoken.