Essay Filmmaker Jem Cohen Sends the Best Postcards in Counting

Courtesy of Cinema Guild

Counting
Directed by Jem Cohen
Opens July 31 at IFC Center

New York-based artist Jem Cohen has an uncanny ability that tends to evade many would-be essayistic filmmakers, which is to effectively expand the meaning of his footage in its assemblage. Shot diary-style across the world, his new feature, the Chris Marker-inspired travelogue Counting, is intensely intimate, bringing us into his way of looking at the world around him, while inviting the viewer to interact with the sounds and images.

Shot over three years, and organized into fifteen chapters, these snapshot sightings of far-flung places are knowingly subjective, and express their limitations in the same utterances as their poetic musings. A study of globalized urban space, the film’s disparate locales (Istanbul, Brooklyn, Moscow, among others) have telling differences and share telling similarities. With a sharp eye for detail, Cohen glimpses the micro that speaks to the macro, delivering a film that feels introspective while also grasping something essential about the contemporary world, whether it’s impressions of a specific economic disparity, or more simply a common vibe that runs through the images, no matter how far apart they are geographically, united in time—if not place—within the intricately woven tapestry of Counting.

While Cohen has long been acclaimed for his work, it was 2012’s Museum Hours, a departure for the director with a more conventional narrative, that got him the most attention. But viewers introduced to Cohen through that film will not be disappointed here. It may lack story and character, but is guided by the very same observational sensitivity and tact.

It wears its intimidating influences on its sleeve (cat homages to Marker abound), but Counting is an emotionally accessible journey through the world that opens up a space for the viewer to define it and themselves. The existential wandering of Cohen’s images have a malleable quality, and can bend to the tune of different consciousnesses even as they depict the artist’s specific ruminating gaze. This understated work of fragmented impressions is one of the most perceptive and engaging films of the year.

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