Born 22 February 1938 in Armenia, Artavazd Peleshyan is a film director, screenwriter and film theorist. Hardly conventional, he is known for short films in black and white and mostly without dialogue. Making use of archive footage, as well as his own shots, he cuts between scenes using a technique that he calls ‘distance montage’ to build a picture of a time, a place, an event and to probe the human condition. Somewhere between art, documentary and fiction, his work is inevitably described as poetic.
Most well known for The Seasons, an ode to peasant life completed in 1975, Peleshyan has now produced a new film, Nature. Commissioned in 2005 by the Fondation Cartier and ZKM Filminstitut, Nature is the culmination of fifteen years of work by a director whose filmography is, in the words of the Fondation ‘as sparse as it is celebrated’.
Nature exhibits the dramatic and dangerous in nature. The clips that make up the film – mainly amateur footage gathered from the internet – show volcanic eruptions, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunami – utterly huge and devastating events. Giant, billowing clouds of smoke and vast crashing waves reveal the awesome power of the natural world.
As boats are tossed about by vicious waves, houses brought down easily in storms, and as people run from rushing tides, the viewer understands the weakness of humans and the man-made world in comparison to our surroundings. Many of the scenes are downright terrifying. We watch as people flee for their lives and are swept away by water. The viewer feels almost voyeuristic, watching scenes in which humans undoubtedly lost their lives.
Despite the fact there is no real dialogue, sound is integral to the film, alternating between a classical score – sometimes rousing, sometimes sad and eerie – and the roar and rumble of quakes and floods. Both feel ominous, turning the film into a warning. This is emphasised further in brief passages when this background noise is paused, allowing human voices – mostly shouts and gasps – to come to the fore, along with other man-made noises such as sirens and helicopters.
Nature is a powerful amalgamation of footage, both awesome and disturbing. A reminder never to underestimate nature and her ability to overwhelm us.