IFFR 2023 Big Screen Competition
Review: Midas’ Ants
- After EO, another donkey takes the lead in Edgar Honetschläger’s latest endeavour, where viewers will explore the delicate relationship between mankind and nature
One year after Jerzy Skolimowski’s fairy tale EO [+see also:
film profile], Italian-based, Austrian activist and filmmaker Edgar Honetschläger crafts another movie with a donkey playing a central role. But that’s the only thing that Midas’ Ants [+see also:
film profile] has in common with the former film. In this movie, showcased in the Big Screen Competition at this year’s IFFR, the donkey acts as the main narrator and a philosopher. He opens his philosophical inquiry by telling us the myth of Phaethon, which will be one of the film’s leitmotifs.
In summary, Phaethon is the son of Helios, and he asks his father if he can drive his chariot for a day. Despite Helios's attempts to talk him out of it, the boy does not change his mind. He is then allowed to take the chariot's reins, but his ride is disastrous. He drives it too close to the Earth, burning it, and too far from it, freezing it. Zeus strikes Phaethon with one of his lightning bolts, killing him instantly. His dead body falls into the river Eridanus, and his sisters, the Heliades, are turned to black poplar trees as they mourn him. This myth is commonly used to explain the presence of inhabitable lands as well as the existence of amber and people with darker complexions.
The decision to focus on this myth is spot-on, as Honetschläger’s feature can be described as a rather original – and deliberately unstructured – discourse on the turbulent relationship between mankind and nature.
Despite the profound philosophical and inquisitive nature of his work, Honetschläger does not hesitate to prompt – more or less deliberately – the viewer’s laughter. The scenes and the circumstances he builds with his cast of non-professional actors sometimes deliver a strange energy, which generates surprise and amusement. For example, in one scene, a waiter of Tahitian descent explains with her voice-over how British and other Western colonisers took over the island, laying waste to their paradise and hoping Tahitians would be “almost as unhappy” as them thereafter. All of this takes place while she is serving coffee to an old Italian couple. After some time, we realise that she has been staring at them for quite a while, prompting an annoyed reaction from the man.
Besides this, the picture is aesthetically pleasing – the cinematography by Fabrizio Farroni gifts us with beautiful close-ups and stunning landscapes, whilst the editing (courtesy of the director himself and Thomas Woschitz) manages to make the viewing experience smooth, despite the numerous changes of setting, its loose narrative structure and the presence of multiple narrators.
All in all, Midas’ Ants is a celebration of the beauty of life and nature – with several more or less explicit hints at the dangers caused by climate change and fake news. Perhaps it doesn’t say anything overly new or groundbreaking, but it says it well, with great sincerity and via a rather original cinematic language. It could potentially be warmly welcomed by enthusiasts of experimental filmmaking and Greco-Roman mythology.
Midas’ Ants is a production staged by Vienna-based outfit Edoko Institute Film Production.
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