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Temenos (1998)

Directed by:

Nina Danino

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 77 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

On DVD

Country: United Kingdom

'Temenos' is an experimental film conceived and directed by London-based artist, filmmaker and lecturer Nina Danino, composed almost entirely of images shot in numerous European locations where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to women – including Banneaux, Lourdes, Fatima, Gibraltar and Medjugorje. Yet despite this obsessive focus on place, the aim is apparently to disorient the viewer – something which Danino achieves both by refusing to indicate where any given scene has been filmed, and by shifting seamlessly from one holy site to another (and back again) with little concern for spatial continuity.

'Temenos' plays fast and loose not only with space, but also with time. Most of the sites are shot in black and white, lending them (at least in cinematic terms) a timeless quality – and Danino's voice-over freely mixes the accounts of female visionaries from different places and times (Lucia Dos Santos, Mélanie Calvat, Bernadette Soubirous – as well as a personal testimony voiced by visionary Vicka Ivankovic herself), weaving these fractured quotes into her own narrative, free from the constraints of conventional chronology. Even the musical soundtrack offers an unconventional, if effective, blending of voices, placing the Tuvan diva Sainkho Namchylak alongside the operatic soprano Catherine Bott and the New York experimental vocalist Shelley Hirsch, all of whose ecstatic wailings, possessed chatter and sublime drones make the locations on screen echo with an appropriately numinous shrill.

In ancient Greece, a piece of land that had been cut off and dedicated as a hallowed precinct to a god was called a 'temenos' (deriving ultimately from the Greek word for 'cut'). So in her film of the same name, Danino has created a new sacred space, cut out in the editing room, bound by the framing of her camera, and enclosed by the artificial titles with which her images are frequently punctuated. Placing herself in a tradition of female visionaries (whose very words she speaks), and splicing together the places where they had their divine encounters, Danino enshrines her own vision in a site constructed of celluloid – a site which can encompass not just previous holy sites, but even Paris at dawn and London's Soho Square (both of which she also manages to invest with a haunted immanence).

'Temenos' captures on film the eerie beauty of its locations, evoking a mood of supernatural awe – but it is not without its irritations. After a while the film's images become tryingly repetitive (even if such repetition is supposed to reflect a broader thematic concern with memory and the echo of time), the titles which divide the film into sections often seem little more than a pretentious distraction, and there are too many longeurs where the screen is inexcusably blank. And the scene near the end where a water-walking Jesus appears to the fishermen (excerpted from Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1964 film 'The Gospel According to St Matthew') seems strangely out of place as the climax of a film which has otherwise fixated exclusively on the apparition of females to females.

Still, if you have a lot of patience, 'Temenos' has the power to transport you to another place.

It's Got: Haunted locations made more haunting by the fractured voice-over and ululating soundtrack.

It Needs: To be less repetitive, to drop some of its section titles (especially the pretentious scrolling ones), and to lose the long periods of blank screen.

DVD Extras Scene selection; biography of Nina Danino. DVD Extras Rating: 2/10

Alternatives:

A Walk Through H, Close to Home, Memory, Now I Am Yours, Stabat Mater, Vertical Features Remake

Summary

A beautiful, if at times infuriating, evocation of genius loci.

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