Return to Forever: Eureka by Lisandro Alonso

20 Oct 2023

Return to Forever: Eureka by Lisandro Alonso

A text by Victor Morozov.

There is nothing idyllic in Lisandro Alonso’s Eureka. Not even the landscape which, in his previous films (Liverpool, 2008; Jauja, 2016), could preserve precarious glimpses of silent majesty. In cinema, slowing down can become dangerous. We might call that danger "mannerism". When you focus on something for too long just for the sake of hollow duration, it feels like you're missing out on something else happening off-screen.

As we know from film critic André Bazin, a shot in a film both reveals and obscures. Back in the early 2000s, amidst a boom of reality shows, the Internet, and TV series, some filmmakers decided that they want to reveal things for longer intervals on screen. This, of course, only made the obscurity surrounding those films even more intense. You can wait for the revelation to appear only if you accept that you will reveal less overall: as soon as you finally get to be on time, you’re already running late.

Many adepts of what was labelled – too hurriedly – slow cinema have since moved on. They probably realized that the association between "slow" filmmakers and "high" art was decidedly too hasty and somehow worked against their work as well. Nothing wrong with speed per se. Believing that slow films alone could counter the flood of fast images only reinstates a pernicious opposition between "good" and "bad" images. It takes courage to work with slow shots and still avoid resentment for how things turned out.

Known for their restraint – few words, minimalist plots – Lisandro Alonso’s films always had something of an opaque prophecy. They surfaced ever so rarely, stubborn in their silence, as if they challenged the acceleration of the entire society. Acting as anchors for the gaze, they were that patient audiovisual river where it was possible – and even encouraged – to step in twice.

Eureka both continues and departs from Alonso’s previous work. It picks up where Jauja had left off: with a western deconstruction turning a Far West shanty town into a hub of debauchery and nihilism. The film persists in contemplation: perhaps its stronger segment, the second one, takes place during a policewoman’s night shift, as she patrols the challenging roads of a Dakota Indian reservation.

This sequence not only feels beautiful, but enigmatic. There is a sense of ghosts lingering thereabouts. Not much happens, but signs of decay and abandonment are everywhere. One car is eerily maneuvering left and right following a dark snowy road: it is slow, almost painful – an unforgettable image of human communities stuck in the density of time. Slow cinema, for Alonso, was never about relief. It was about creating an experience akin to purgatory.

Yet the movie also marks a rupture. His images have never been so sleek, so self-aware. At almost 150 minutes, this is a radical shift from his older one-hour features. What’s puzzling is the oscillation of the narrative between minor events and profound meditations. It’s like Alonso had stitched together three medium-length films (the last one concerning the corruption of an indigenous community by the white people) that communicate only in extremis: not exactly a demonstration of montage prowess, but a confinement to an insurmountable horizon.

The tense waiting for the film to flow, to surround us with its meditative, heavy images, and cleanse our eyes: a nod to the powers of cinema to durably unsettle. Much like the CGI crane Alonso borrowed from a Cree legend and transposed here, Eureka seeks to bridge the present with history, spaces with thoughts, then quietly, slowly dissolve in broad daylight.



For the first time the VIENNALE hosts a YOUNG CRITICS' CIRCLE. A group of young, international film critics are working under the editorial and organisational guidance of author and film critic Patrick Holzapfel on a number of texts dealing with the programme of this year's festival. This initiative is related to our commitment regarding the perception and discussion of film criticism in its permanent state of crisis.

Lisandro Alonso

Saturday, October 21, 2023 - 6.30 pm:
TALK WITH LISANDRO ALONSO at the Viennale Campari Lounge

Highly precise in his view of people and their mysteriousness, of the interplay of space and body, and minimalistically clear in the elaboration of the mythologies and spaces of possibility in which his characters move, director Lisandro Alonso has found a distinctive staging style. (Reviewed in detail in Viennale Textur #6). In a masterclass he talks about his work.