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BOOK OF DAYS

USA, 1989 (MIFF 1990)

Director: Meredith Monk

MEREDITH MONK'S post-modern filmic fresco is a rich and haunting reinvention of medieval life that never loses its contemporary perspective.

The demolition of an ancient stone building in the here and now suddenly blasts us back to a then and there where long-robed men and women glide through a monochrome Middle Ages marketplace. Although the black and white cinematography distances viewers from the re-enacted past, the present constantly intrudes.

An off-screen interviewer questions representative characters including a farmwoman, a storyteller and - in a witty performance by the filmmaker herself - a silent madwoman whose facial gestures imply she knows much more than she can say.

More resonance is gained when we are introduced to a Jewish family, marked with yellow circles on their black cloaks. These characters are more than stock types and come across as definite individuals, especially the middle daughter who has strange dreams and visions that only we can recognise. The mysterious shapes she draws on walls and in the sand are clearly images of a suitcase, an aeroplane, a car...

Our current epoch is further invoked when a man and woman in matching plaid and Ray-Bans host a performance show in the medieval square. But again, those different, "darker" Ages take over when the village is attacked by plague. The Christians blame the Jews and the medieval world seems to go up in an apocalypse of hatred and disease that presages our own troubled century.

This time-bending allegory, with its intriguing mix of directness and delicacy, is also distinguished by a subtle, chanting score by Ms Monk and Jerry Pantzer's dazzling camerawork. - (PKe)

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