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- 15.11.2010 17:25 -

Bears and Uncle Vanya

medvedi_ostrovy

Martin Ryšavý loves the captivating magic of the vast, timeless soul of Siberia, luring him back to places that are so unlike the meek gardens of Czechia; places where life can still be an adventure. To make his latest film, he put on reindeer skins and set out to the very north of Yakutsk, a land of polar bears, to make a portrait of eternity in the frosty wilderness.

The Bear Islands are the northernmost place Martin Ryšavý has filmed so far. They are connected with the mainland by a layer of ice that is two meters thick; the thermometer does not really go for the red part of the scale. As usual, Ryšavý undertook his arctic journey without a crew, he alone taking up the role of director, cinematographer, sound editor and producer. Besides the frost and snow, four hunters kept him company, including the quirky local freak Uncle Vanya. During polar evenings spent at the stove, he tells about his father, cold, hunger, seal hunting, encounters with people and bears (the latter being more frequent at this frozen piece of land). His recollections not only complete the ambience of the surrounding wilderness but also link the hunters with the past of the long abandoned meteorological base where they have taken refuge for a few days. The wooden walls are gnawed away by wind and frost, the rooms are full of drifted snow. Things left here by the dwellers have remained in their places, from the snow plough in the garage to the black-and-white photograph of a girl on the office desk. The vast complex of the base, whose operation stopped after the fall of the Soviet empire, is a real ghost town, a posthumous child of an empire long gone. The people have vanished and so has time. Brought back by the narration of Uncle Vanya, time will soon be taken away along with the hunters.

The film by Martin Ryšavý offers a similar experience as a perfect meditation. Primarily the detachment from things we have come to see as part of ourselves and which we consider as natural and objectively valid; such as our notion of time. Surrounded by frosty eternity on all sides, we come to realize the temporality of ourselves as beings; to what degree we cling to our notion of linear time and how much we depend on it in our daily lives. However, what relevance does this concept have in the world that surrounds us?

The film has a powerful cyclic structure, with the very rhythm of constant repetition of image and sound motives bringing us to a state of perfect “trance”. The story does not have a linear development, its ending resp. beginning are only defined by the film’s footage. Returning to the very same room from which the men set out for their expedition at the end of the screening time, the film might be as well at its very beginning. Bear Islands are like a mantra repeated over and over again; which, if we readjust our perception, opens the doors to other worlds lying behind the border of time.

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