When I started Joris Ivens’ semi-autobiographical fable A Tale of the Wind, I had little to go on, other than the Book’s entry and the title of the film itself, which wasn’t very striking. Well, it should’ve been, or rather, the meekness of the title was one of the largest red herrings I’ve experienced in watching films. The title, I reasoned after watching the film, was probably the most apt and appropriate title Ivens could’ve possible given this film; it is so breathy, and airy, and porous to an extreme. There is no real plot, and only a slight narrative to follow; the film exists as an empty canvas for Ivens to paint whatever he wishes to paint. This was his last film, made when he was 90, and he uses this film to express everything he wishes to express before he passes on to the next life, and it is breathtaking to behold.
The film could best be described as a ‘fictional documentary’. It follows Ivens as, to put it the way the film’s opening text puts it, he tries to film the wind itself, which I’m sure is supposed to be some kind of metaphor for the unattainable. Really, it’s just an excuse for Ivens to pretty much put whatever the hell he wants up on the screen, but seeing what he has chosen to put on the screen, I’m hardly going to be the one complaining; the film is beautifully shot. Every scene and image that appears on the screen has a beauty, a glow about it, and I was often weirdly reminded of Koyaanisqatsi, only with more people to focus on. The musical score helped this comparison, filled with wind instruments and a slight electronica. It also helps that Ivens himself is often the focus or center of attention in the shots, though never in a self-indulgent way. The first image of Ivens that we see in the film is of him crying, and from there he does much to endear himself to the audience by doing very little; talking with some people, sitting in chairs over expansive vistas and desert scenery, and providing the occasional snippet of dialogue to help tether the film together better.
This was another one that had that magical quality about it, that made it such a compelling watch. The whole film could’ve been a tapestry, a scroll of woven images that tell the same story that Ivens merely chooses to express on film; that’s how impactful and memorable this was for me. And once again, if asked or pressed, I would probably not be able to pin down just what about it is so mystifying, though I’m sure the alternating musical score and lack of score in certain scenes, which gives the film a soothing silence for most of the time, is largely to blame. This was a weird one, all right, but a really, really good weird; the kind of weird that makes you smile while you’re watching it, and you don’t know why. That’s really all that need be said about this one. I will end this with a rare instance of spoilers, which I normally try to avoid, but I found it so artful that I wanted to make note of it somewhere here; by the end of the film, it is even more humorously apropos that Ivens’ quest to capture the wind on camera turns out to be successful. How it is, I will leave for you to experience for yourself, and you definitely should.
Oh, and there’s a nice throwback to Georges Melies partway through the film that I enjoyed, that I felt was worth an extra mention, even though I technically enjoyed just about every scene in this one anyway.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10