With Level Five, French director Chris Marker has created a piece of experimental video art more than any kind of a conventional movie. A game designer called Chris (who may be the director) has left the development of a computer war game to his friend Laura, who is trying to continue his work on it. It is about the WWII battle of Okinawa, and the story seems to be more about the history of this event than about the actual game.
In several passages, the movie turns into a documentary about the battle of Okinawa, how awfully the Japanese were treated (not just by the Americans, but also by their own rulers who brainwashed them to consider the Americans as vicious demons, causing the Japanese to kill their own loved ones rather than allow American soldiers to catch them), and how the Japanese have been trying hard to forget about the war.
Laura doesn’t have much luck with the computer game, and spends most of her time speaking to the camera, offering pocket-philosophical anecdotes and random thoughts. Both her words and those of the odd Japanese war historian are delivered so slowly that it is difficult to keep the sentence fragments in your mind. After a while, it honestly no longer seems worthwhile to try. I do not consider myself to have a short attention span (after all, I enjoy both Shakespare and opera), but it was very hard for me to stay interested.
Long sequences of manipulated video clips are regularly inserted into the narrative, playing with 1980s style computer graphics, images, words and digital effects, mainly with very little impact on the storyline. The movie seems to be shot in a shed, outfitted as a small computer office. Except for archival documentary footage from WWII, and a few, brief landscape shots, everything takes place in the shed, demonstrating that the movie had practically no budget.
Personally I rather quickly became impatient with the slow and meandering style of the movie, and found it very difficult to sit through it. What happens is very hard to concentrate on; not because of the substance or subject matter, but because of the style of presentation. This is not a movie for a mass audience; I think most people would feel as I do about it, although I am also certain that some people would be intrigued by this very pensive and droll style.
As the medium of Level Five is not entirely cinematic, but more experimental in its form and expression, I am going to decline rating it. For me it was not very interesting; others will have to make up their own minds.
Level Five is out on DVD 22nd August 2011.
Director: Chris Marker
Cast: Catherine Belkhodja and others
Runtime: 106 min.