Review: Way Beyond
- The European Organisation of Nuclear Research has never been so intriguing, thanks to the cold yet alchemical gaze cast by Swiss director Pauline Julier
Pauline Julier’s works investigate the complex and fascinating relationship between fiction and reality, pragmatism and dreams. A winner at the prestigious Swiss Art Awards in 2010, the Genevan artist has travelled the world, screening her films in art centres, institutions and international festivals such as Paris’s Centre Pompidou, Toronto’s Film Reference Library and Barcelona’s Loop Festival. This year, it’s the turn of the Visions du Réel Festival, where she is presenting (within the Burning Lights Competition) the world premiere of Way Beyond [+see also:
film profile], a mysterious film of a mythological flavour in which science(-fiction) and humanity collide in the quest for an increasingly precarious equilibrium.
At the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), a commission of experts shows a growing interest in a huge FCC (Futur Circular Collider) project, involving the construction of a new particle accelerator, which is itself the product of a collaborative effort between over one hundred and fifty institutions and partners. According to its designers, this futuristic machine will allow scientists to travel backwards in time to the very origins of the universe. But how do you go about creating and sustaining a project of such superhuman dimensions? And what are the limits, or rather the difficulties, that come with such a seemingly unstoppable quest for knowledge?
Way Beyond broaches this fascinating battle between fiction and reality, which characterises the quest to uncover the origins of the universe, in poetic but also brutal fashion. It’s a complex and multifaceted adventure, echoing the labyrinthine corridors lining the Organisation’s premises, bolstered by science but also brutal confrontations with reality: which strategy should they adopt in order to convince the economic and political institutions of the feasibility and necessity of a scientific project which appears to be bigger than we are? Is it possible to express scientific concepts, which thrive and feed on abstraction and invisibility, in words or in writing? The Swiss director invites us to follow her on a journey marked by surreal tones, where dreams and reality, poetry and pragmatism blend together unexpectedly to reveal the inevitable ambiguity of humankind.
Science also relies on marketing to survive; it needs to be able to sell itself and use words to express abstract concepts for which there aren’t necessarily words! This construction of a language which is, to some extent, artificial, but nonetheless necessary, is wonderfully expressed through images devoid of sound (or at least of human voices), images of the Organisation’s empty corridors, and of computer screens and scientists’ hands which imitate the geography of the new accelerator. By way of these highly suggestive pictures, Julier seems keen to restore the dignity and mystery of reality which are sometimes distorted by words. In this sense, the parallel drawn between the majesty of CERN’s director (some sort of untouchable high priestess) who speaks in a darkened room to an audience of “believers” who listen, bewitched, to her words, and the horde of scientists who gather outside the exit of the very same conference, enveloped in an indistinct rumbling of voices, is also very interesting. The contrast between the nigh-on mystical silence in the room and the subsequent buzz among the participants perfectly sums up this unresolvable conflict between the expressible and the inexpressible, between fiction and reality. Way Beyond is a film to be watched in a waking-dream state, remorselessly savouring the beauty of the unknown.
(Translated from Italian)
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