I am a huge fan of British filmmaker Patrick Keiller, so the prospect of seeing his new screen essay, Robinson in Ruins, was truly exciting. I saw London, the first film in this loose trilogy, at VIFF over a decade ago and was thoroughly bemused; it wasn’t until I got Robinson in Space from the library that his work really clicked for me. Keiller’s films consist of a series of still shots with voiceover narration, this time by Vanessa Redgrave. In this series there has always been a somewhat mysterious story – in this film, the character Robinson (a former scholar who is now out of prison and homeless) has been walking in the countryside around Oxford, making links between disused American military bases, the cold war, gas lines, riots against the enclosure of common land and the recent global financial crisis.
My favourite shot was of a vast field of pink poppies while the narrator described the UK’s efforts to produce their own morphine supply. There were also great shots of spiders and of crops being threshed and of lichen on a road sign. Indeed this film is more visually splendid than the last two, which featured a lot of shots of industrial decay and did not linger for so long on images of butterflies. Structural ruins do makes an appearance here, too, but while there are apocalyptic strains in the film (the narrator wonders why humanity finds it easier to accept an imminent environmental catastrophe than a different economic model), it is also about hope and beauty.
If you translated the vision of W.G. Sebald into film, it might come out a lot like Keiller’s work. I’m surprised that no one else seems to make this type of film essay, which encompasses history, politics, landscape and memory, but which is not actually a non-fiction documentary.
There are no more screenings and no clips online but below is a clip from Robinson in Space.