Jackie? Smokey? Crusoe? The star of Patrick Keiller's ongoing, extremely heady series of essay films is closest to Daniel Defoe's famous castaway: He's an itinerant philosopher-cinematographer who pops up now and again to photograph England's urban and rural landscapes, write down his observations, and leave the unedited footage and notebooks behind for others to piece together. We never see Robinson, only his images, which in Ruins (the follow-up to 1994's London and 1997's Robinson in Space) range from verdant fields to nondescript, often dilapidated edifices. And as in the previous installments, the offscreen character's numerous "notes"---most of them charting the 2008 global economic collapse, happening while the film was being shot---are read in semihaughty voiceover. London and Space featured the late Paul Scofield, whose sonorous tones are replaced here by Vanessa Redgrave's cooingly obstinate utterances.
The results are both enlightening and enervating. A lengthy Redgrave monologue detailing the point-by-point failure of financial institutions is spoken over a mesmeric visual of a spider spinning its web, while a primarily silent sequence of farmers harvesting (and harvesting and harvesting) an abundant wheat crop feels devoid of meaning---pretty pictures in search of a grounding purpose. Comparable works like John Gianvito's Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, or nearly anything from cine-essayist Chris Marker's oeuvre, mine similar territory much more rewardingly.
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