JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Bare | Dave Not Coming Back (Directors: Aleksandr M. Vinogradov, Jonah Malak) - January 11, 2021

Bare | Dave Not Coming Back

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Two docs that dare to expose truth very differently

2020, 92 minutes
Aleksandr M. Vinogradov
Four stars

The naked ebb and flow of men

Dance film documentaries (as opposed to full-blown dance-filled musicals) are not everyone’s cup of tea. But in director-writer-cinematographer-editor Vinogradov’s inventive hands, this production goes far beyond just movement to music.

The subject matter is the progression of Belgian choreographer Thierry Smit’s bold new work, Anima Ardens, from casting auditions, through thirteen weeks of rehearsal to opening night. That sounds routine enough except that the 11 dancers, all male, must be nude throughout the performance. For Smit, unabashed nudity is “the last bastion of freedom”.

But make no mistake, there is not a frame of pornography in sight. The bare, beautiful, marvellously muscled bodies of the young men are most certainly, at times, sensual, but never sexual. Those expecting full-on erections will have to go back to the internet and Pornhub.

The dancing itself is largely (but with frequent suggestions and admonitions from Smit) improvisational. Imagine being given a flimsy white veil (and nothing else), then asked—one at time—to encapsulate female birth in the male body (the results are extraordinary from this talented, multi-national troupe). Displaying weakness of all stripes (physical, mental, emotional) also yields memorable results. But it is when the dancers link their bodies together to breathe and, literally, walk all of over each other before falling into trances and becoming devils, that the first performance (which, necessarily is not in this film) can be looked forward to with eager anticipation by all.

For comic/artistic relief, the camera captures the “boys” having a smoke and discussing their various partners (here freedom means open relationship), launching a hilarious penis twirling contest, or making good-natured fun of Alex, without whom there would no show.

It’s well worth a look no matter what your persuasion. Wish that more artistic creations would be as open and honest—truly celebrating the body beautiful and the mind alert. JWR

Dave Not Coming Back
2020, 92 minutes
Jonah Malak
Four stars

Into the depths, but not out alive

Described by long-time diver Don Shirley as filled with timelessness and blissfully calming, cave diving—the good, the bad and the deadly—is laid bare in this wide-ranging documentary (a skillful combination of actual forage and re-enactments).

Shirley’s frequent partner in underwater exploration, record setting and rescues is near-lookalike Dave Shaw.

The film takes place in South Africa both at Shirley’s home (with dive possibilities virtually on his doorstep) but mostly above and in Boesmansgat cave (“Bushman’s Hole”) in Northern Cape province. The watery sink hole has been the scene of record setting and, unfortunately, accidents and deaths over many years.

In 1994, team member Deon Dreyer never resurfaced. Incredibly, his body was found by Shaw while setting the depth record of 270 metres a decade later. Also in 2004, Verna van Schaik set a world record for deepest dive by a woman (221 metres). On January 8, 2005 (with a troupe of expert divers, a meticulously designed body retrieval plan—painstakingly overseen by surface marshall Schaik) the retrieval dive ended tragically: Shaw would breathe his last while attempting to bring Dreyer “home”, giving his family some much-wanted closure.

Malak’s production (which he also wrote and—along with Karim Haroun—edited) is a fascinating look at deep diving: its beauty, dangers (decompression or the “bends” on the way up), courage and duty. Despite having a team involved, Shaw himself makes it very clear that once in the water you are “on your own” in terms of survival.

The cinematography (largely by Hugo Gendron and Marwan Haroun) from magnificent overhead shots, to brilliant underwater sequences, to the difficult-to-watch helmet-cam video strapped on Shaw’s head (itself in a small way part of the disastrous result) at the end, shows this underwater world where “you’d be safer travelling in space” as few have ever seen it before.

The music tracks are as varied as the action, thanks to the creativity of composers Marc Bell and Gabriel Thibodeau; special kudos to cellist Sheila Hannigan whose dulcet tones artfully capture the “on your ownness” in the deep and the wonderfully reedy contributions from clarinetist/bass clarinetist Robert M. Lepage. The one major sour note comes from the frequent inaccuracies of the subtitles.

Not for the easily squeamish, a viewing is recommended for all others who wish to know more below the surface. JWR

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