Review: Divinations (2019)

Courtesy of Pravo Ljudski film festival

As pupils, we learn the history of places we are from, and later we try to understand the now. With passing time, we lose the ability to look into the future burdened by personal questions. It’s all about Is and never about US. But, are pavements, street signs, cobble-stones, rooftops or even plants of our settlements blessed with a sense of premonition? Can they tell us what will become of their urban hosts in the future near or far? Could they possibly help us find the clues?

Cities can’t talk but they carry their specific DNA. We recognize some of their molecules, we may even understand how they double-strand. The scent, the buzzing, its vibrant- and sleepy phases, the calm and the storm. But, what we are even better at is destroying them with our unstoppable urge to consume, devour and possess things, and busy doing all of it, we forget to cast an objective glance into the future.

Those who haven’t unlearned to interpret what is coming by stepping away from their egos, untouched by the concept of money, conspiration theories and media, are children. The Belgian filmmaker Sarah Vanagt who already reached to the youngest in her debut short Little Figures (2003) by examining their ‘historical imagination’ related to three statues on the Mont des Arts in Brussels (a king, a queen and a medieval knight), returns to her confidantes with a new concept in her crtitically acclaimed short Divinations, currently screening at the Sarajevo-based Pravo Ljudski film festival that had to go fully digital this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alarming thoughts dive out of childrens’ minds. Their visions are sinister, full of warnings, and yet told in that matter-of-factly tone that only the youngest have the absolute command of.

Children from Antwerp, Athens and Sarajevo were asked to interprete the fragments of their towns caught on the sticky surface of the rolls of transparent tapes they rolled on the surfaces of just anything they found interesting. Once peeled off, the roles came to life through the magic lanterns from the MHKA – Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, that Vanagt luckily was granted the access to.

Filmed on the dreamy 35mm by the cinematographer Jonathan Wannyn, Divinations uses the voices of children as the vessel for bringing the future close to the present. Their faces remain invisible, and the tapes become the excerpts from their diaries, some of them hopeful despite of dark visions, with the majority ready to face the worst. A new “God for atheists” is born, and there is even a completey new interpretation of genesis.

Country: Belgium
Language: English, Dutch, Greek
Year: 2019
Directed by: Sarah Vanagt
Camera: Jonathan Wannyn
Editing: Effi Weiss
Sound recordings: Sarah Vanagt
Additional voice recordings in Brussels: Nina de Vroome
Sound design & Mix: Maxime Thomas