2015 Film Reviews

Locarno 2015: ‘88:88’ (Isiah Medina, 2015)


As the first feature-length film from emerging experimental filmmaker Isiah Medina, 88:88 is a mathematical journey into the nature of being, addressing time as it slows downs or pauses. This is a film about “suspension.”

The title refers to the flashing “88:88″ on digital clocks after your power has been restored. It’s no coincidence that the “8” is similarly connected to eternity and the uncompromised structure of the Möbius strip. The film connects this cycle to class and poverty. The power goes out because you can’t pay the bills — you are no longer connected to modern life, you are no longer moving forward. But when time resumes, are you really that much better off? You miss one payment, you’ll miss another, and those breaks in power reflect so many other layers of inequality and poverty.

In a post-film Q&A, Isiah Medina says the film is about “the cut.” Image and sound are secondary — ironic because the cut itself is invisible. Medina connects this to the poor, who he says are invisible too: it’s only when you start counting and start paying attention to them that you begin to SEE them. I’m not sure I would agree to this comparison, but I do think it is revealing of his methodology and thought process. 88:88 is anything but accidental, and the deeper you crawl into the film, the more apparent that is. He treats editing as an almost ethereal and transformative action. If cinema begins with the cut — which is invisible — it is not unlike philosophy, as Medina reminds us that “philosophy begins with nothingness.”


88:88 feels incredibly of the moment. Integrating a technological subjectivity, much of the action is filtered through a first person viewpoint. Phone and tablet video complement the majority of the footage shot on a Red camera and some later film instances of 16 mm, which in relation to the digital images seems infused with blood and bone. Matched with Medina’s laboured and layered editing style, this compound of mediums suggests that the image itself is alive. This has always been clear with celluloid (the French word is “pellicule,” another word for skin), but Medina’s craft gives that same life into the digital.

The style of 88:88 has been compared to Jean-Luc Godard, specifically his recent projects like Film Socialisme (2010) and Adieu au langage (2014). What sets this film apart from Godard is an intimacy approaching a breach of privacy. The conversations, the people and the scenarios may be distant, but they feel raw and so real that we sometimes feel like unwelcome guests in their lives. The intimacy is real — the film feels like it is ripped from their lives, borne from their frustration and sadness. But beyond that, there is so much beauty as well.

88:88 will be making its Canadian premiere later this year at TIFF as a part of the Wavelengths section. It will be interesting to see how such a challenging but emotion-driven film plays in Toronto, where Medina currently lives. He’s already carving himself a spot in the tradition of Canadian avant-garde cinema, forging his own voice that rather than being esoteric and elitist, seems so close to the situations and experiences of real Canadians.

Justine Smith (@redroomrantings) lives and writes in Montreal, Quebec. She has a bachelor’s degree in Film Studies and a passionate hunger for all kinds of cinema. Along with writing for Vague Visages, she is the film editor of Sound on Sight and a freelance writer.