Hot Docs

Wild Gleaming Space Review: Long Day’s Journey into Night

Hot Docs 2024

5 mins read

Wild Gleaming Space
(Spain, 90 min.)
Dir. Mauro Colombo
Programme: Made in Spain


Where do we go when we die? Director Mauro Colombo goes beyond stories of people on the edge of expiration who see the big bright light to engage with those serious ones who have walked the fine line between life and death in varying ways. He also seeks to do the near-impossible: capture other-worldly phenomena via a visual medium.

Two experiences that occurred close together in time inspired Colombo to make the film. First, he witnessed the death of his father and later encountered a man near death on the road, brought him back to consciousness through CPR only to watch him die. Thinking of the dying man, Colombo wondered what it all felt like to him.

Ultimately, he expanded his exploration beyond people who have been on the edge of death to talk with those whose work or personal experiences have put them close to those walking the fine line between life and death.

Among them is Survo, who after an accident, fell into a coma for months. Survo recalls having no access to his senses. He smelled nothing, heard nothing, saw nothing. There was no floor, no ceiling, but he had the feeling that things were moving around him. His description of how he felt when he emerged creates a highly emotional moment.

Music therapist Carla uses music to ease the pain for children with terminal illnesses. She is a human beacon of light, singing with them, encouraging them to sing back and in one moving sequence, putting a guitar on the back of a child so she can feel the instrument’s vibrations. Carla works on the belief that music will ease the journey into death.

Some of the other sequences deal more with the symbolic. Among them is scientist Hugo’s preoccupation with a black hole in space. He describes the phenomenon as indefinite space beyond the sky. Is it full of energy, radiation or nothingness?

Mara and Raquel want to honour her grandparents, who lost their village, which they believe is now under water. Their search, says Columbo, “takes us to a personal, intimate untouched space,” This is another sequence that, like the one featuring Hugo, takes the film to extreme levels of abstraction.

The more concrete elements of this doc come via the research of Dr. Charlotte Martial, which could well relieve people’s anxiety about facing death, especially as so many of her subjects reported similar experiences. Some seem familiar, in particular the experience of encountering a person close to them who has died, who urges them, “Go back, it’s not your time.” Some, like the coma survivor Survo, recall having lost their senses and feeling as if there is no floor or ceiling. Especially heartening to those who dread the end is the fact that so many of Martial’s subjects are transformed into a state of wellness as they face death.

As for his mission to find a way to give visual form to something so indefinite, Colombo isn’t entirely successful. Images of great swaths of open water, one of a human shadow set against a vivid representation of a jungle, another of the inscrutable black hole and finally, a pulsating suspended bubble reminiscent of a fetus in utero, attempt to evoke spaciousness and timelessness. They don’t entirely succeed, but credit Colombo for trying to accomplish the near impossible.

Even with that mission’s disappointing results,  there are moments of true beauty in this thought-provoking film by a filmmaker of immense empathy.

Wild Gleaming Space screens May 1 and 4 at Hot Docs.

Susan G. Cole is a playwright, broadcaster, feminist commentator and the Books and Entertainment editor at NOW Magazine, where she writes about film. She is the author of two books on pornography and violence against women: Power Surge and Pornography and the Sex Crisis (both Second Story books), and the play A Fertile Imagination. She is the the editor of Outspoken (Playwrights Canada Press), a collection of lesbian monologues from Canadian plays. Hear her every Thursday morning at 9 AM on Talk Radio 640’s Media and the Message panel or look for her monthly on CHTV’s Square Off debate.

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