For years now Toronto’s Ingrid Veninger has been making films that have played in festivals all over the world. Her iconoclastic style is provocative and avant-garde, and films like Modra and Animal Project have received significant acclaim.
Her latest project, He Hated Pigeons, came out of one of her travels to far-flung festivals. Having met Pedro Fontaine, Veninger was convinced she should make a film with him, and with a loose storyline shot the actor playing a character named Elias who travels from the Northern Atacama desert down to the Southern Patagonian tip of the country on a sort of cathartic journey of the spirit.
Along the way we’re treated to flashbacks, connections to a love recently passed. There’s an absence that’s palpable, an energy sucked out that’s still very much longed for. Elements of plot are parsed out slowly, so much of the film relies upon the stoic expressions of the lead and the caliber of photography. Luckily, cinematographer Dylan Macleod drops the usual shakycam indie look in favour of lush, sometimes epic scenes carefully captured. The early night scenes are grainy and diffuse, yet we soon learn that this inability to clearly see is perfectly in keeping with the almost dream-like reverie of what’s been captured.
As we travel down the road in this melancholic voyage we end up encountering various other characters, including a Canadian backpacker played by Veninger herself, that slightly shifts the trajectory of Elias’ journey.
What perhaps helps the film most is Veninger’s creative way of scoring the piece. Each time the film is presented it’s done with unique, live accompaniment. The only instruction given is to leave the opening six or so minutes alone, allowing the near-silence of the desert to engulf the audience before the musicians begin. At my screening the live score was fantastic, with a three piece band called Morning Show consisting of drums, guitar and piano.
As a bit of a swap the guitarist provided a droning backbone, while the pianist captured simply arpeggiation that offset the gentle pounding on the kit. Ever mindful of keeping with the subtle beauty of the location, the musicians played not by staring at sheet music but at the screen – as an audience we could watch them take in the imagery, using what was unspooling visually to help influence the musical texture, which in turn helped affect how these images were apprehended.
I for one enjoyed the homophonic coincidence of the band’s name, for a film with mourning at its heart could not have found a better moniker for the group. Part of what makes the screening so energizing is the feeling of its one-off nature – the score wasn’t even recorded for posterity, and never again will that film be seen with that exact combination of elements. Veninger has all but promised the film will never live on disc, but only to be screened in such a fashion, each iteration providing a new flavour (and in turn new memories) for those that experience it.
Despite these seemingly arbitrary elements there’s a terrific cohesion to the tale, one that lets you flow down south wrapped up in the journey. Veninger’s gift is to allow the film to be translucent, neither completely, obnoxiously opaque as some art films revel in, nor overly pedantic or obvious. It’s a beautiful balance between not giving into simplistic tropes that may comfort some audiences, nor removing all narrative threads in favour of something purporting to be poetic but oftentimes simply devolving into pedantry. He Hated Pigeons meets this Goldilocks metric, neither too hot nor too cold, being just right in its bridge between the dreamlike and the emotionally resonant.
He Hated Pigeons is much more than the description may lead the cynical to fear, far more than just the ingredients of experimental form mixed with musical happenstance. It’s a fine work from a gifted filmmaker confident in her ability to keep things loose, but equally capable in keeping things from sliding away down the metaphorical cliff. We’re left to wonder at the end of the film, but not left confused. We are left feeling like we’ve travelled quite a distance and not quite sure yet how the journey will affect us moving forward.
We are left, in short, thinking this film is a remarkable experience not soon forgotten.