The Human Surge
Directed by Eduardo Williams
Opens March 3 at the Metrograph
With The Human Surge, a debut feature that defies categorization and other expectations besides, the Argentinean director Eduardo Williams has done nothing less than attempt to rewire narrative cinema for the information age. It’s a testament to his talent that he so often succeeds. Adopting the relay race as a structuring principle, Williams immerses the viewer in three successive environments—teleporting, as it were, from Argentina to Mozambique to the Philippines—connecting them all together to form an impromptu but largely coherent vision of a newly wired global community. Shattered cellphone screens, shoddy wi-fi, and disconnected verbal conversations are constants from locale to locale, each of which Williams shoots in a different format—the first in Super 16 and the last on video, and the middle one with an ingenious combination of the two (video reshot in Super 16 off a computer monitor).
The film, which had its local premiere in the avant-garde Projections sidebar of the New York Film Festival, opens in Buenos Aires, where the twentysomething Exe (Sergio Morisini) has just been fired from his job in a superstore stockroom. But Williams—who often relies on follow shots, during which his subjects, naturally enough, have their backs turned to the camera—shows no real interest in the conventional pathways of character development. Exe’s defining characteristics, then, come to seem less about him per se than about the particular network he’s a part of, as he soon finds himself involved in a half-hearted amateur-porn scheme with a handful of other idle young men, and one night, online by his lonesome, comes across a similar webcam broadcast out of Mozambique—at which point Alf (Shine Marx), himself growing resentful of his daytime office job, takes the narrative baton.
If the sequence of Exe sitting in the dark, just clicking around, is a rare on-screen depiction of the now-far-from-novel experience of tabbed browsing, with its horizon of limitless portals and all the associated euphoria, the film’s following transitional sequence—during which the camera descends into the bowels of an anthill only to emerge in a Filipino jungle—proves even more of a marvel. In calling attention to such moments of connection, The Human Surge underscores the very hyperlinked quality of its own narrative. But it’s not until the epilogue, an eerie static-camera sequence in which workers in hazmat-like attire assemble computer parts, that the film directly confronts the prospect of an automated future, bringing together more closely its dual themes of work and the wireless life. Here, Williams seems to suggest that, in the not-too-distant future, we won’t be able to work even if we want to, and the ever faster internet—for both better and worse—will have our undivided attention.