Review: The Average Color of the Universe
by Jan Lumholdt
- Swedish helmer Alexandra-Therese Keining offers up an enigmatic and colourful journey through grief and loss by way of outer space
The scientific calculation of the average cosmic colour, based on the light from thousands of galaxies, forms the framework of this decidedly offbeat depiction of a journey through grief and loss. Premiering in the Nordic Light section of the 2020 Göteborg Film Festival, The Average Color of the Universe [+see also:
interview: Alexandra-Therese Keining
film profile] sees Swedish director Alexandra-Therese Keining (Hot Dog, With Every Heartbeat [+see also:
film profile], Girls Lost [+see also:
film profile]) venture into the realm of the experimental film, joining forces with a select few of her contemporary compatriots, among them Mia Engberg (Belleville Baby [+see also:
film profile], Lucky One [+see also:
interview: Mia Engberg
film profile]). It’s a welcome and worthy addition.
Virtually a cinematic poem, The Average Color of the Universe plays out in seven stanza-like chapters, each representing one of the seven basic colours of the spectrum. Voice-overs from documentaries about physics and astronomy are intercut throughout, sometimes heard from an on-screen television set, sometimes seemingly coming from above and/or beyond.
The main protagonist is a young woman (Jennie Silfverhjelm, given and mastering a difficult task), spending her time at what looks like a summer house in the countryside or perhaps on an archipelago. Clearly unnerved, she’s seen attempting to inseminate herself with frozen sperm, moving into self-pleasure and then tears of frustration. Images of a somewhat pain-stricken man, a cheerful infant toddler and doctors performing delicate surgery at an operating table also permeate the feature. As the chapters play out, it is clear that many of the images represent the remembered, the dreamed or the imagined – all in one prismatic blend, if you will. But the woman in the house is real, and is all by herself, as the others are now gone.
The Average Color of the Universe is a courageous creation, addressing loss and trauma in a deeply personal manner, wherein certain components may be coherent primarily to the creator herself (or at least will necessitate several viewings). That said, this is a film that probably looks like and says just what it’s supposed to, enigmatically displaying its coded colour scheme (not in the original order of the spectrum, at that) for the spectator (and surely also the protagonist) to try to untangle. Two brief dialogue scenes occur, presumably to provide enlightenment; at least one of them actually feels a bit redundant. The actual name of the titular average colour of the universe is both ingenious and delicious: cosmic latte.
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