A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness

(France, Estonia, 2013, 98 mins, DCP)
FEATURING Robert A.A. Lowe
PRODS Julie Gayet, Nadia Turincev, Indrek Kasela
SCR/CAM/ED Ben Rivers, Ben Russell
MUS Robert A.A. Lowe
PROD CO Rouge International / Black Hand


The close collaboration between internationally celebrated artist-filmmakers Ben Rivers (Two Years at Sea) and Ben Russell (Let Each One Go Where He May) has yielded an intriguing ethno-trance aesthetic that finds its stunning summa in their much anticipated co-directed feature A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness. An immersive, at times mesmerizing experience, Spell follows a nameless protagonist—musician Robert A.A. Lowe, of Lichens and Om fame—as he explores three markedly different existential options: as a member of a 15-person commune on a small Estonian island; living alone in the breathtaking wilds of northern Finland; and as a singer-guitarist for a neopagan black metal band in Norway.

Shot on Super 16mm by Chris Fawcett… Spell is awash in atmosphere, bathed successively in natural, incandescent sunshine, the blues of a perpetual magic hour and the stroboscopic concert lighting of a dingy bar. Liberated from conventional narrative causality, Robert’s trajectory charts a continuous drift (superbly conveyed by a floating camera) that signals a radical investigation of the self, an enigmatic effort to "ward off the darkness" that is engulfing our increasingly secularized world. Is this a search for fulfillment, mutual understanding, a gesture to quell boredom and unremitting solitude, an affront to utopianism, or simply a natural progression through life? Choreographing the movements of their non-actors, Rivers and Russell explore a participatory ethnography with both their real-life characters and us, the viewers, drawing deeply from the elemental in order to shake us from our viewing habits.—Andrea Picard, Toronto International Film Festival

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