Trying to understand the logical mechanism of the narrative thread of the short film ‘Utopia‘ may be the biggest disaster you can do to this extraordinary project. Because the artistic stake proposed by director Aimiende Negbenebor Sela goes beyond the conventional parameters of most psychological films, being inspired by the apparent aesthetic disorder of the fictional universes created by David Lynch, by the emotional turmoil and the space paradoxes of a movie like ‘Shutter Island’ by Martin Scorsese or by the identity ambiguity similar to an involuntary de-corporealization like in Marina de Van’s ‘Ne te retourne pas’. Not by accident, the director seems to play with the viewer’s expectations starting with the title of this intense experiment, providing a complex bi-spatial and bi-temporal action that rather adopts the exigencies of fantastic literature where dream and reality acquire such a consistent coherence that it is impossible to discern the boundary between these two complementary worlds. The “utopia” proposed by Aimiende Negbenebor Sela doesn’t suggest a perfect, paradisiacal universe, referring, in fact, to the primary meaning of this term, to its etymology, designating that “no land”, meaning the impossibility of the characters to discern the concrete boundaries of the world they belong to. So, the question “is it real or not?” or “who dreams who?” remains unanswered even after the end of the movie.
Angel wakes up in her apartment in L.A., preparing for a trip home, where she will confess her love to Lillian, with whom she has a harmonious relationship for some time. But as Angel prepares for her departure, the reality around her is getting altered, and one of the dreams obsessing her sleep becomes more and more real. The image of a burning exotic landscape seems to overwhelm her perception until the protagonist wakes up in a hospital bed in Uganda where she had been in a coma for seven weeks.
What initially appeared to be a LGBT film promising an utopia, a harmonious space where the acceptance of the other is a daily normality, gradually turns into a psychosis that shakes the spectators’ emotions and expectations. In fact, the technical strategies used by Aimiende Negbenebor Sela often take the subjective perspective or the blurred details that mimic the distorted perception of the main character, which allows an almost complete identification of the viewer with the protagonist. The violent colours of the almost impeccable image and the brutal sound effects support spontaneous space-time transitions, ensuring the interpenetration of reality with the dream into a homogeneous and non-conformist project that goes beyond the more or less cliché-like premises of a forbidden love story. Thus, ‘Utopia’ succeeds in adopting the requirements of an experimental project without addressing an elitist public, also depicting an emotional existential drama about the power of emotional attachment that goes beyond space, time, and sometimes even reality and dream.
For the epic nonconformism with which it shatters the spectators’ expectations, but also for the professionalism with which the director creates a homogeneous cinematic composition, uniting the brutal image and sound into an intense sensory experience, ‘Utopia’ was awarded with the Film of the Month distinction in the June 2018 edition of TMFF.