EIFF 2012: 'The Search for Emak Bakia' review

★★★★☆
Oskar Alegria's The Search for Emak Bakia (Emak Bakia Baita, 2012) plays out as an impassioned pilgrimage to find the filming location of Man Ray's experimental 1926 film Emak Bakia (which literally translates as “Leave me alone!” - a message Alegria is reluctant to observe). Here, the journey is certainly more important than the destination, taking numerous diversions in search of knowledge, inspiration and hopefully, through chance, finding the answers he's looking for.

Ray's cineliterate poem Emak Bakia is a surreal amalgamation of wraithlike imagery and distorted composition, all shown out of context. Featuring pioneering examples of double exposure, soft focus and ambiguous imagery, Ray's film is now widely regarded as a major influence to numerous auteurs. Alegria's film attempts to find the house in which Ray filmed his masterpiece, taking a road trip to Biarritz in order to unite the rich tapestry of the director's film to create one whole.

Whilst originally setting out to discover the meaning behind the film's peculiar title, Alegria searched for the introverted tombstone that apparently boasted this coy Basque phrase as its epitaph. The tombstone was nowhere to be found. However, Alegria did happen across the gravestone of a dead clown. Raising the intriguing question of whether a clown can really die, this coincidence sends Alegria of on one of many tangents - including a trip to a vintage clothes shop, stalking a flirtatious plastic glove and interviewing a Romanian princess. It's this playful and unconventional approach that makes The Search for Emak Bakia such an enthralling viewing experience.

Using similar techniques to Ray himself, Alegria's film combines rich visual flourishes with comical title cards that initially threaten to herald an unbearable piece of pretentious filmmaking. Thankfully, Alegria is aware of the divisiveness of his approach and injects an endearing charm to his work. Whilst you may not share his passion for Ray's film, it's easy to become engrossed in his playful and beguiling methodology.

Far too personal and specific to entice the wider audience it deserves, this experimental documentary is a must for anyone who classes themselves as a cinephile. Rich in visually-alluring imagery and boasting an infectiously spirited approach, The Search for Emak Bakia is a surprisingly compelling love letter to an extraordinary director and his pioneering work.

The 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 20 June-1 July, 2012. For more of our EIFF 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.  

Patrick Gamble

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