A documentary by Jennifer Baichwal. Rated G.
Act of God, a striking new documentary on humans hit by lightning, begins and ends with novelist and poet Paul Auster talking profoundly about his experience of being struck at the age of 14. He and playwright James O’Reilly speak of the long time it took each to be able to write about the shared experience and the need to avoid reading Zeus-like “intentionality” into a random act of natural cruelty.
Watch the trailer for Act of God
Irony abounds in the (dragged-out) tale of young Mexicans killed while worshipping at the base of a mountain-top cross. The fact that they built a chapel there, devoted to the victims, is full of ripe ambiguities little grasped by the grieving survivors, although these would likely be appreciated by chicken-waving Santería followers, who refer to the act as being “crowned by Chango”. These mostly black Cubans are also happy to pay homage to the virile African deity in the domesticated form of Santa Barbara (she does have a sword), so they may be better than most people at integrating powerful dichotomies.
Writer-director Jennifer Baichwal, who made a sizable splash with Manufactured Landscapes, certainly wants to grab this elusive tiger by the tail. She gets close to the magic while visiting a French museum devoted to lightning, and the found footage (civilians capturing lightning in a jar?) is stunning. But time spent with British improviser Fred Frith, who gets thunderously unpredictable noises from his electric guitar, proves frustrating. The music is good, but it reminds us that in a 75-minute film, Baichwal doesn’t even touch on what Oliver Sacks wrote a whole book about: formerly tuneless folks who became musical prodigies after being struck from above. Them I’d like to meet.