It is difficult to make a metafilm these days without falling into the trap that is self-parody in the face of pretentiousness. Shows like Community have shone the light on the entire 'movement' and made it difficult to turn into anything other than a simple self-indulent diversion.
Luckily, Dasein manages to do something very impressive - it takes itself seriously by mocking its very existence.
The story is far more implication than plot. There are characters, there is stuff that happens leading up to the 'death' of our main character, but it's all framed as if it is a part of a film that we are watching. Or so the introduction seems to indicate. The truth of the film is a bit more complicated. Aniket, our our hero-y-type guy, is an artist working in a contemporary vein, eschewing the traditional forms, and especially aesthetic theory. The film, though, hews close to the absolute path of Post-Modernist theory. From the opening which introduces us to the base fact that we're looking at a movie, to the non-linear editing that fixes the story around a series of vignettes that seem to lock the story around an idea of modern life being about the turning of the key on a jailcell.
I found myself connecting with Aniket for much of the film, and the other characters seem to float through the film with less attachment, which was perhaps something the screenwriter knew going in. The imagery is phenomenal, as the cinematography is intense, well-placed, and powered by the transitions between straight, traditional shooting, such as a lovingly locked-down long shot of Aniket walking across a parking lot, to B+W, to bizarrely-lit dance numbers that seem to speak of inner-torment and outer BDSM. That scene marked my mind deeply, and the images of a chained Aniket in multi-colored lighting with nuns surrounding him is one of those shots that can stand for an entire film; if you can decode that scene's meaning, you can come to the sum total of the film.
The direction and script of Shailik Bhaumik are quite powerful, and the film is stronger for his vision. Watching it, you feel the force of concept bringing out the best in every scene. It's a smart script, one that is informed by decades of film history, referencing films across the spectrum, from Bollywood to Hollywood, both visually and in dialogue and action. While the nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime leads to the mind wandering at points, the film is so engaging visually, and Sumanta Mukherjee is so engaging and charismatic as Aniket, that you'll come back to it before too long. When Aniket finally breaks completely, it is so much more powerful because there was so much to love there prior that moment.
As a narrative avant garde feature, it succeeds in many directions. At times it seems to call the more off-world films of Fellini or Ingmar Bergman. It sits well within that range, and will reward multiple interactions, as it's so richly layered that there will always be something new to discover.
Klaus at Gunpoint
A Film Journal dedicated to all film.A segment of Office Supply Publishing.