(France 2020; Dir: Wang Yuyan)

One Thousand And One Attempts To Be An Ocean

“Oddly satisfying short film – LOOK”

review by Laurence Boyce

One Thousand And One Attempts To Be An Ocean

length: 11

year of production: 2020

country of production: France

director: Wang Yuyan

editing: Wang Yuyan

sound: Raphaël Hénard

festivals: Berlinale Shorts 2021, Tampere 2021, Go Short 2021, Glasgow Short Film Festival 2021, Go Short 2021

© images: One Thousand And One Attempts To Be An Ocean (Wang Yuyan)

The footage listed at the end of Wang Yuyan’s ‘One Thousand And One Attempts To Be An Ocean’ will seem familiar to anyone who has idly traipsed through social media feeds, more often than not in a state of mental torpor. “TOP 100 Most Satisfying Shredding moments”. “Glass Explosion at 343,000FPS!” “Most Dangerous SOAP BUBBLES Ever!!” Offerings of visceral experiences, unknown pleasures and strange phenomenon: all from the comfort of your own home. On one hand this offers a democratisation of experience, a chance to undergo encounters that would be previously denied through economic, social or practical means. But there’s always suspicion that this presented experience is merely surface, gifting limited understanding and empathy: human endeavour and involvement limited to sharing superficial images through a screen. In her kaleidoscopic experimental film, Yuyan navigates these two spaces as he both eulogises and critiques a society which is drowning in an overload of information.

Beginning with an artist trying to paint an ocean onto a canvas, we descend into a maelstrom of imagery all taken from online videos. Beachgoers get engulfed by waves. iPhones are crushed by metallic rollers. Green plastic toy soldiers melt. Eggs are cracked under water. There’s seemingly no rhyme, reason or context for the never ending cavalcade of images and moments on screen. It’s all accompanied by a rhythmic and constantly resetting sample of someone speaking. At first their speech is clipped to the point of unintelligibility. But as the film goes on, it minutely reduces the clipping so words soon become intelligible (at that point it has a striking resemblance to The Orb’s classic ambient track ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’) before speeding up once again before the end of the film. It all combines into a work of sensory overload that – initially — seems to make little sense on a narrative level.

But sensory overload and pleasure is part of the film’s appeal – just as in ASMR videos online — with the images and music providing a hypnotic rhythm in which one can wallow and luxuriate. Indeed, there is perhaps a certain amount of irony that while the film takes its cues from an online space, one could imagine it captivating an audience within a cinema (as of writing, the film has not yet been shown to public audiences in a theatrical setting) thanks to its visual and aural ebbing and flowing.

Yet in enjoying the film’s sensual pleasures one starts to become aware of how shallow this appreciation might be. The imagery becomes just that: startling or pretty images that become devoid of meaning or context. Every so often there’s an image that seems more startling, more dangerous. An ocean strewn with rubbish. A hurricane destroying everything within its wake. But they drift by with everything else. We fail to sift out the warning signs as we become deluged with everything else. There’s a sense of being able to capture experience, to replay it for others and share it with the world. But can we really live vicariously in this way? Are we truly sharing (or participating in) an experience or are we merely staring at a facsimile of one?

In many ways this becomes ironic in terms of the actual medium. Film and cinema – even it’s more abstract and experimental forms – is meant to offer us the chance to experience, learn and understand. At what point does this fall into passivity? What line separates a shallow and superficial understanding of the world with a more nuanced one? Yet ‘One Thousand And One Attempts To Be An Ocean’ never descends into a finger wagging exercise in audience chastisement (“Get out the cinema you sheep and live in the real world!”). Instead, it’s an exploration of a world that can all too often fall into the superficial that recognises its pleasures as well as its pitfalls.

Originating at Le Fresnoy film school in France, ‘One Thousand And One Attempts To Be An Ocean’ had its World Premiere in competition at Berlinale Shorts 2021. Already in the midst of a healthy festival run, including a UK premiere at the 2021 edition of the Glasgow Short Film Festival, the film will continue to prove popular at festivals (especially those with more of an experimental bent) over the coming months.