Song From the For­est

Half a world away

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Robert Ker

Song From the For­est, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, in English and Yaka with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

In the mid-1980s, New Jer­sey-born eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gist Louis Sarno trav­eled to the forests of Cen­tral Africa to record the mu­sic of the Bayaka Pygmy tribe. He found the en­vi­ron­ment so ap­peal­ing he de­cided not to re­turn to the U.S. Over the decades, he in­gra­ti­ated him­self with the tribe, record­ing more than a thou­sand hours of mu­sic and be­com­ing one of them as best he could, even fa­ther­ing a child. In 2011, the movie Oka! dra­ma­tized his re­mark­able story. This is the doc­u­men­tary ver­sion.

In­stead of re­hash­ing the past, Ger­man direc­tor Michael Obert’s fine film ex­am­ines the present and fu­ture, con­found­ing ex­pec­ta­tions about what the doc­u­men­tary could and should cover at ev­ery turn. The nar­ra­tive thrust cen­ters around Sarno bring­ing his young son, Samedi, to New York City for the first time — and Obert uses the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the jun­gles of Cen­tral Africa by com­par­ing them with the con­crete jun­gle of the Amer­i­can city.

He does so with­out pass­ing judg­ment on which en­vi­ron­ment is “bet­ter” or more con­ducive to a ful­fill­ing hu­man life. In­stead, he presents the dif­fer­ent places with won­der­fully com­posed photography and an ob­jec­tive eye. Side by side, they seem al­most color-coded: the for­est a lush green and the city — of­ten pre­sented at dusk — a cool blue. We see the peo­ple in the tribe hunt and dance, but we also see New York­ers, in­clud­ing Sarno’s close friend, film­maker Jim Jar­musch, in his min­i­mal­ist apart­ment. Both groups of peo­ple seem con­tent.

Sarno de­scribes the bus­tle of city life as a string of er­rands that have lit­tle to do with one’s per­sonal hu­man sur­vival, as op­posed to the jun­gle, where one’s tasks, such as hunt­ing, di­rectly re­late to one’s ex­is­tence. Samedi shows us the DVDs and toys that his fa­ther bought him and ex­plains that he can’t re­turn to the tribe with such use­less trin­kets: He’d pre­fer to re­turn with a gun for hunt­ing. Obert frames th­ese per­spec­tives and lets us de­cide what to make of them.

He closes the film with one of many wide shots that leave their mean­ing up to each viewer. In many re­spects, Song From the For­est is sim­i­lar to doc­u­men­taries like Baraka and Sam­sara: The won­ders of the planet and the diver­gent daily lives of its habi­tants are shown in all their glory, with a vague sense that all of this, too, shall pass. Though this is tech­ni­cally a doc­u­men­tary about a mu­si­col­o­gist, by its end you may not care that the mu­sic was barely touched upon.

Happy to­gether: Louis Sarno and son Samedi

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.