Our Digital Future/ Wavelengths
Dragonfly Eyes is a film unlike any other. Assembled from hundreds of thousands of hours of surveillance footage from all over China, director/ artist Xu Bing has constructed a narrative that combines mundane, everyday interactions with extreme events caught on camera.
Bing finds his characters in the unaware, obscured pedestrians of locations such as a Buddhist temple, a dairy farm, and a dry cleaners. Different women stand in for Qing Ting (whose name translates to Dragonfly, a reference to the many eyes of surveillance society), a young woman drifting from job to job, place to place. She soon catches the attention of Ke Fan, who becomes infatuated with her and tries to track her down following a brief stint in prison. The low def cameras and people’s distance from them cleverly cover up the fact that different people are representing our characters, which is just one of the many ways Xu Bing cleverly uses this concept.
The everyday, seemingly mundane interactions, are intercut with random incidents and accidents, disasters both natural and man made. Traffic accidents, buildings collapsing, fist fights, and other acts of extreme violence suggest an interconnectivity to it all, and an impeding doom for the characters. In this sense, the film has much more action and explosions than TIFF audiences are used to seeing in a Wavelengths film.
Dragonfly Eyes also uses an elaborate sound design to help construct the narrative. Giving characters voices through narration and scripted dialogue, the film also features an often thrilling score which intensifies as it progresses.
Xu Bing isn’t only experimenting with the form, but he’s also experimenting with narrative. The film oscillates between several perspectives. In addition to the characters telling the story, we often revisit a pair of police officers who watch parts of the story unfold on the surveillance cameras, and also experience the POV of the cameras themselves as they seem to possess some form of artificial intelligence.
Dragonfly Eyes ultimately plays like a strong piece of installation art. Challenging and certainly for the more adventurous festival goers, yet much easier to find something to connect with than most experimental films.