Review: ‘Photon’

Hot Docs 2017

2 mins read

(Poland, 107 min.)
Dir. Norman Leto
Programme: Nightvisions (North American Premiere)


Imagine an elliptical and increasingly dystopian introductory physics lecture delivered by a slightly ornery Aussie version of David Attenborough with the customary PowerPoint replaced by a mashup of_ 2001: A Space Odyssey_ and Jean Painlevé‘s Surrealist nature docs. That will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect from Norman Leto’s avant-garde science(-fiction) documentary Photon.

A film of cosmic scope like 2001, Koyaanisqatsi, Dog Star Man and the “Rite of Spring” episode in Fantasia, Photon transparently aspires to the cult status of those films—astutely observed by Hot Docs, which has put it in their Nightvision program for “future cult classics“—and, apart from some inexplicable (and at times vaguely misogynist) interruptions in the otherwise seamless flow of words and images, I see no reason why it shouldn’t take its place next to them.

It’s hard to say you’ll learn anything from Photon. The narration’s facts and factoids are either common knowledge or quite inscrutable; the images, gorgeous though they are, don’t help much, largely opting for oblique rather than literal illustration. It’s hard, in fact, to say it’s a documentary at all, even by a generous definition with the last third turning into completely speculative apocalyptic sci-fi, replete with AI and flying cars.

But whatever it is, it’s nuts, and you should see it.

Photon screens:
-Saturday, May 6 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 1:00 PM


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