A digitally altered still of a cinema interior, as if we have just walked into the cinema itself, orchestra left, to see the cinema completely empty of patrons and a blank screen, is the first image the viewer encounters in All the Cities of the North. The image is a welcoming introduction, inducing a self-conscious awareness of one’s own presence inside the cinema, but moreover, introducing this film specifically with a blank canvas. It’s as if the young filmmaker, Dane Komljen, is not only stating watch closely, but also asking, what are the possibilities of the cinematic palette?
Komljen answers with a constellation of cinematic endeavors that envelope as one darkly perplexing tide. The base narrative revolves around two men who live together in a dilapidated, seemingly former hotel in the middle of somewhere. They systematically wash their clothes in plastic containers, clean their tent, pick berries, fetch water, bake potatoes on coals of fire, piss on the side of the building… They seem to be living in some futuristic utopia/dystopia, like Stalker’s “Zone,” just a bit more lush, with friendlier dogs, and revealing beautiful minimalist architecture. Their relationship is interrupted when a third man shows up to occupy space along with them. Granted, the three of them never exchange a word.
Words are spoken via narration, however. Early in the film, the narrative breaks to examine Yugoslavian building companies looking as far as Lagos to build places of trade. Aerial images in tow, a narrator explains that these constellations built for commerce never came to fruition, and that the locals then came to make them their own, building off of these ghost shells for their own use. This seems an easy metaphorical comparison to the story at hand, but this is just one of many unpredictable yet informative pauses: poetry is dropped via voiceover; a song of revelation sounds (only to be understood when you read the credits, unless you understand Serbian); not to mention, film crews slowly make their way into the film itself (and the cinematography here is absolutely astounding), and more, insane sound clips merging with shifts in the imagery (you’ll never forget seeing an apple cut with scissors). In this film, anything is possible, and somehow, it all softly collides into one solid consummation that drifts deeply under the skin.