PIFF 2022: A Machine To Live In – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 29 minutes, Directors – Yoni Goldstein, Meredith Zielke

Documentary looking at the futuristic design and architecture of Brasília, the capital of Brazil, and the cult-like and alien links and beliefs tied to it.

As Yoni Goldstein and Meredith Zielke’s observant camera pans around the city of Brasília it demonstrates a view of the future trapped in the past. Towering buildings of varying shapes and designs seemingly plucked from a dystopian sci-fi flick of years gone by, Blade Runner certainly comes to mind at times, with occasional hints of The Jetsons. It’s a film that pitches itself for the big screen, a format which would likely allow the buildings and landmarks of the Brazilian capital to speak louder. Echoing the repeated thought that “Brasília wasn’t born, it was projected into being”. A view and projection of the future, seemingly abandoned and eventually grown by itself and the thoughts which kickstarted the process.

In relation to this the film’s second half, after much observing of the city and the views of those in and around it, takes a look at the cult-like and alien beliefs surrounding the architecture. Rituals relating to ultra-terrestrials and their influence from and over Brasília. As this strand is developed it certainly seems to detract from the overall view of the “boundary” making architecture and even the thought that “Brasília, for people who know how to look at her, is haunted”. Instead, the short 89 minute run-time of the piece begins to feel quite lengthy as it seems to explore something very different to what it started out looking into and focusing on. A slow feel is created and it does begin to create a sense of dissociation with the piece as a whole.

It’s also perhaps where the film itself is most restless. With much of it spent with little narrative, the film feels as if it silently and often immediately jumps from moment to moment, observance to observance with little warning. Often moving to something new even before you’ve properly managed to settle in to the most recent point beforehand. It perhaps explains why the most interesting and engaging stuff is that which looks at people’s personal views of the city, what it means to them and what they think of it, if anything.

Much of this is featured in the relatively successful first half of the film, featuring plenty of establishing long shots to truly get across the other-worldly nature of the city. It’s where the film seems more certain of itself and what it’s trying to show and describe, over the events of the second half where the themes feel less controllable as the depart from the initial focus into something slightly odder, and yet not quite bordering on the idea of this being something wholly experimental. It may not always be the most consistent film, and certainly it takes some time to understand and get used to amongst the various different points that it makes and silently observes, but there’s at least still some interesting elements within the way in which Brasília is made to look and feel, and how people react to it, that slightly engages you for enough of the run-time to make for generally interesting, if slightly odd, viewing.

There’s certainly a strong other-worldly feel within the initial city focus of A Machine To Live In. While it might be moved on from in the less-controlled second half there’s still enough initial interest in Brasília, and those within it, to move this occasionally odd, for better and worse, documentary along.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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