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DIRECTED BY: Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule
FEATURING: Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule
PLOT: Orpheus’ disembodied head is rediscovered after years of contemplative solitude.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: An often dazzling combination of text, primal music, stylized vocalization, and surreal imagery, Solve et Coagula defies any conventional standards of cinema.
COMMENTS: A funny thing happened to me as I approached Solve et Coagula. I mentally began my review before even seeing it, planning on flippantly diving into a sea of glib remarks about Europeans, pornography, and art-house. About an hour into my viewing, this urge had morphed into the apologetically dismissive. However, once Orpheus’ head began lecturing a group of followers (and us) about human senses, something changed. My journey to tentative enlightenment only took two hours, but was a handy parallel to Orpheus’ journey. A third journey also took place, on the part of the director.
By any measure, “Defenestrate-Bascule” is a ridiculous name. I can’t believe it’s real, as its approximate meaning is the command, “throw the counter-balance out the window”. Experimental filmmakers are necessarily an eccentric breed, and in his own moniker Orryelle asks us to toss away our calibrated perspective. The request has merit: Solve et Coagula must be viewed unmoored from convention. Some elements are window-dressing (for example, the combination of stop-motion with live action, or the special effects that feel oh-so-very-1990s). What rips his movie from the canvass is the almost palpable energy—with two kinetic climaxes—that emerges from its Homeric narration and stylized repetition.
The first half, preceded by a sexually explicit proem to the goddess Erotica, is told cyclically, with lines expanding upon each other. The sentences are built visually on the screen in the form of the written word, while Orpheus (Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule) wanders through woodlands, Hades, and a Maenad-infested riverside, speaking the words we see. This section ends with a nebulous cliffhanger: Orpheus’ head, chant-storytelling, floating disembodied along the water. There is some good to be found in this long introduction, but a lack of “punch” and the unwelcome anchoring of obviously real-life camera shots diminish the effect. This was the point that I became “apologetically dismissive.”
Sticking with this guide, however, proved well worth my while. Solve et Coagula is as inspired as it is flawed. Having endured the latter, I was able to soak up the former during the second half. Somehow, a headless Orpheus relating his woe of lacking a body, while demanding of his followers (and us) to use our bodies to make one for him, felt eminently more real somehow. Cinematically, Solve et Coagula hits its stride when it casts the trappings of a narrative framework aside and focuses on the physicality of the human form. In all my years I cannot recall witnessing video as palpably erotic as the long montage of bodies coalescing into one giant body for Orpheus; and the editing for the closing dance is the best job I’ve seen capturing what must have been a truly visceral experience for those filmed. When thinking on my front porch after the screening (a habit of mine), I found my brain bursting with things to talk about–and if that’s not a sign of a worthy work of art, I don’t know what is.