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Anthropologist and sociologist of culture. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
SOCIETY / Simon Beaulieu's untraditional film seeks to convey the multitude of anxieties experienced in the modern world.
Director: Simon Beaulieu
Country: Canada

Arising out of 21st century sensitivity, converging techno-culture and computer games’ first-person perspective with phenomenological exploration of current every-day existence, Le Fond de l’air creates a formally innovative, immersive picture that stirs numerous fundamental questions, not only those directly asked in film, but also others concerning the future, borders, and goals of documentary genre itself. The film’s dominant black & white poetics, merging a cascade of images with symphonic music and moments of silence, remind us of the early 20th century roots of cinema, like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, but re-define them from our nowadays point of view in an attempt to arrive at a new, internally altered dimension of the century-old Dziga Vertov’s Cine-Eye concept.

Le fond de l’air, a fim by Simon Beaulieu

The cruel century

Initial montage of images edited to the rhythm of overwhelming techno music and punctuated by blinding lights introduces a mental space in which fragments of the cruel 20th century’s political history interlace with people’s personal memories; micro and macro views forming a spectrum of consciousness. It is rapidly disrupted and ended by the appearance of a frightening figure in a transparent mask, which hardens and blurs his facial features at the same time. The man reappears throughout the film as if an ominous sign of danger; of being overpowered by «the man without qualities.»

First-person shots follow the every-day activities of different people, from waking up, to commuting to work, preparing dinner, going for a walk. Peaceful and ordered, big-city neighbourhoods, office and factory spaces, networked and interactive houses seem to contradict the repeating snippets of intellectual, expert media discussions on impending doom. Intense, heightened accounts on environmental disasters caused by man, like excessive carbon emissions, or massive extinction of species, lead to pictures vast amounts of unneeded and redundant products. The growing volume of voices calling for fundamental change to our system surrounds and accompanies every step of the way, as well as the new technologies that change the patterns of our perception, activity and, hence, psychology. As ever, we are also subject to the laws of physics, with entropy and unpredictability of the increasingly complex systems and processes breaking the competence of even the most sophisticated specialists. Visions of inter-planetary journeys and colonies bring the only hope of preserving human civilisation in a wake of looming danger.


An increasing sense of urgency toward finding solutions advance a state akin to Munch’s The Scream. Pictures of big wars and humanitarian disasters entwine with religious symbols (of which Medieval icon surprises with a sudden, paradoxical, ethereal harmony and peacefulness), landscapes, and crowds of people moving slowly in different directions, passing each other. The paralyzing sensation of historical crisis needs to be crossed over by an active change in the basic premises of capitalism that could bring salvation. Similar to how an eclipse ends and the sun shines again. Meanwhile, however, the reappearing man finally catches up. As if a rite of passage for traditional societies, he forcefully puts his transparent mask onto the captured first-person narrator. The film’s experiencing subject now becomes a full-fledged member of society that will have to carry on difficult tasks, every time, starting from the next morning, when he leaves the home.

Apocalyptical visions and messages of doom guide humanity through ages and cultures

We are indeed living through times of crisis and the media have taken a task of educating us about the true dangers that silently and unnoticeably imperil our existence. Le fond de l’air use of the beginnings of cinema poetics approach these themes in an artistically conscious and sophisticated way. Its simultaneous employment of new media narrative forms creates an impression of playful, spirited dialogue with cinematic roots in search of redefining their timeliness. Apocalyptical visions and messages of doom guide humanity through ages and cultures, and are a necessary ingredient for constructing common social actions and aims.

Cutting through fog

Throughout the 20th century, documentary has played an important role in describing the changing world, giving rise to various styles and formal approaches. It in itself is at a point of deep changes fostered by increasing VR productions currently in a period of forming their own stylistic specificity. Le fond de l’air could also possibly be a VR production in terms of narrative as it lays the ground for an interactive, dynamic, direct cinema. It could also be an illustration for the next modern way to cinematically represent the almost century-old philosophical concepts of the phenomenological school, whose member Gunther Anders’ quote opens the film. As such, it fosters multi-layered reflection not only on topics it covers but also on ways of summing up and conveying our human experience – it gives us a chance of diving into our still prevailing 20th century perspective with new technological equipment. Hopefully, it could help us in refreshing our foggy view of things around.