The Ister

GREEKING OUT Zeus figures prominently in the early part of a wide-ranging thesis.
GREEKING OUT Zeus figures prominently in the early part of a wide-ranging thesis.

Time Out says

Perhaps a three-hour documentary about a river, a poem and the Nazified philosopher who broke down the latter in a 1942 lecture ain't your cup of cinema. If academics holding court also gives you pause, that would be something to consider, too. But The Ister is nothing if not smart; if an intellectual meditation on the nature of technology and humankind is what you seek, here it is—a thinking man's The Matrix, crossed with Huckleberry Finn and (why lie?) an extremely dense college course.

Taking its cue from Friedrich Hlderlin's hymn "The Ister" (the ancient Greeks' name for the Danube), the documentary winds its way upstream of the actual river, while several of today's thinkers expound on notes delivered by Germany's Martin Heidegger during World War II. Excitable prof Bernard Steigler engagingly relates the myth of Prometheus, while the river tour takes us through Yugoslavia's bombed-out bridges. Most provocatively, chain-smoking Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe explicates Heidegger's explosive idea that technology leads to industrialized agriculture and mass exterminations alike, while the visuals show Mauthausen's death camp not far from the winding stream.

The film's codirectors are Australian philosophy geeks, not the second coming of Chris Marker, who makes this kind of heady video inquiry (A Grin Without a Cat) the most thrilling thing possible. But their lack of film chops is minor compared to the fecundity of their exploration—which, granted, is only for the seriously inclined. (Opens Fri; Anthology.)—Joshua Rothkopf



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