Deciphering the Un-Decipherable (Meshes of The Afternoon analysis)

As a viewer of mainly mainstream western media, I found this film utterly bizarre and yet deviously fascinating. Its dark tone, cyclical plot and juxtaposing edits make it a difficult task to decipher, leading to a fantastic sense mystery. I feel that to try and judge an experimental film, or even attempt to understand it, goes against the very nature of that type of film making. It cannot be judged against anything else but its own merits, for it is breaking the very conventions against which it would be compared. I cannot pretend to say that I understood the film, or that I necessarily enjoyed the experience of watching it, but I also can’t deny that I was fully engaged and enthralled in it throughout.

The film uses several motifs through the film; the changing of a key to a knife, a lost flower, a mysterious hooded figure with a mirror for a face. These strange juxtaposing images, mixed with the exotic surroundings, transported me from my desk to another world, where time is relative and anything is possible. The techniques the film uses are very interesting, and considering it was made in 1943, quite pioneering. Split-screening, jump-cuts and nauseating camera movements suggest that some of the most common mainstream techniques were founded by experimental filmmakers like Maya Deren. The stark, shadow casting lighting was reminiscent of Film-Noir, a key movement in Hollywood at the time, but the subject matter of the film was anything but this. Instead, the plot follows an unnamed woman as she tries to chase after a hooded figure, unlocks doors, and sits to watch herself do it again.

The narrative is so utterly entangled in itself that it breaks down the very reality it sits in, and perhaps this is the key theme of the film. No matter how much control and analysis you try and put into reality, you will never catch up with it. The same, it could be said, is true with this film. Every time you think you have understood it, it throws another startling image at you and changes the reality you thought you knew. However, upon reflection, I believe that there are strong hints that this film is a feminist statement.

The lead female is seen chasing after a dark figure that is leaving her home, she never manages to catch up with the figure, and is instead left to stay within the home. There are many domestic images within the film; the breadknife slowly making its way through a loaf, the lost flower of innocence, the woman sitting aimlessly in her chair before the male returns. Perhaps this is a strong statement against the stereotyping of female roles within the household, and demonstrates that equality should be reached. Considering this film was made in 1943, its message is still criminally true. The lead is caught in the meshes of domesticity, and is left to daydream through the afternoon about what other realities there are out there, waiting to be discovered. The final shot, our lead character sat dead in her chair, suggests that her life will be wasted in domesticity, chasing after something unknown and forever yearning for more.

You can watch the film here:

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