The Somnambulist is a conceptual art film by photographer and artist Duane Michals. It opens on a night-vision image of an elderly man (Michals) as he makes his way down a corridor; followed by various cross-faded black-and-white shots of a woman (Barr) laughing as she looks into a hand mirror. The narrative then returns to the man, who opens a door to reveal two naked male wrestlers.
These slightly surreal images, combined with a staccato musical score played on a violin, hint at the dreamscapes of Salvador Dali – and given Somnambulism is another term for sleepwalking, it seems fair to assume these images are intended as a portrayal of the elderly man's dreams.
Such assumptions seem to be confirmed when the man enters another room and has a conversation with a
young man (Van Berkum) who claims to be the older man’s father. The tone of the conversation is emotionless and matter of fact, filmed as a single shot in a plain room, and remains focused on the old man; only
showing the younger man in a reflection in a mirror; again suggesting that all other characters are peripheral to the protagonist, existing only within his mind.
As a result of both the set design and the nonchalant acting style, he tone of the film feels detached and otherworldly; the white rooms and corridors feel clinical and imply a sense of working through mental issues. At seven minutes it’s a nice concise piece that could fit well into a festival which focuses on the mind or mental health – although for a standard festival it does feel a little conceptual. In addition, the fact that the protagonist is so devoid of emotion (it barely seems to register when his father tells him that he never loved his mother, or that he wasn’t wanted as a baby, for example) does make it a little difficult to engage on an emotional level; hence the piece feels a little more philosophical than character-driven.
Overall, this is an interesting and imaginatively executed art film – it would have been nice if the
surreal imagery had been pushed further to create a truly nightmarish dreamscape; but clearly this was
made on a very low budget and as such it is successful in creating a contemplative and thought-provoking
Want us to write a professional review of your film? Go to our submissions page and select 'Film Review'
Written & Directed by: Duane Michals
STARRING: Duane Michals, Malin Barr, Ben van Berkum