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GOCRITIC! Karlovy Vary 2019

GoCritic! Review: Spoon

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- Latvian filmmaker Laila Pakalniņa turns her eye to plastic spoons and searches for their meaning with mixed results

GoCritic! Review: Spoon

In some alternative reality, a treatise on the plastic spoon would perhaps be a bona fide hit; our own world has seen many celebrated filmmakers delving into potentially silly topics and coming up with dazzling works. Yet Spoon [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Laila Pakalnina
film profile
]
, Laila Pakalniņa's latest offering, which world-premiered in the Documentary Competition at Karlovy Vary, seems destined for niche audiences who have a tolerance for excessively slow-paced cinema.

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Even those may have a hard time, however: by inserting a quote from Leonardo da Vinci in the opening minutes ("Everything here connects with everything else. Really."), the director sets out to present a cinematic puzzle. In this Latvia-Norway-Lithuania co-production, sequences, vaguely related to each other, show different stages of the making of plastic spoons. The viewer is invited to join all the dots and assign meaning to what is seen.

The filmmaker's approach is deadly serious - something which might not seem to fit a work about such a forgettable object, but presents itself with clarity through the entire running-time. It's easy to sense the care given to the composition of each shot, from their framing to their sense of proportion and geometry. Pakalniņa is so determined on getting the audience fully focused that only one shot in the entire film - the second - contains a camera-movement.

Alas, the glacial pace and clinical rigour of the proceedings do have a distancing effect. After appearing for the first time five minutes in, the spoon - the closest thing to a centre of action the production offers - only reappears after during the final dozen minutes of the film. By this point, too many scenes involving workers and machines have diluted the message the director tries to convey.

The fact that the screenplay foregoes a clear narrative - or even a voice-over - means that it works better with audiences who appreciate free-form and “durational” cinema. It does not try to make a case for or against the spoon, avoiding the emotional style of more mainstream and conventional documentaries.

Pakalniņa successfully establishes the transitory and transient nature of the plastic spoon through constant appearances of ships, trains and cars. In fact, despite the lack of camera movement, most of the people and objects depicted seem to be in motion. However, being a merely observational work, the results feel very protracted despite the short 65-minute duration.

There's some pungent commentary being made about the lengthy human chain required to make an object that has a lifespan of one single meal. Whole factories in places like China and Norway are involved in this - which actually speaks volumes about the current stage of capitalism.

An epilogue of short segments showing the spoon in “action” meanwhile reveals the clear economic gap between producers and users. The discardable object finds its demise after grand birthday parties and cycling events - activities in which most poor people, including the ones who work at the factories depicted, cannot partake.

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