Language Lessons


NV on her new film, Language Lessons.

Remix, collage, mash-up. Retelling stories. People love stories to the point where they do something terrible to stories. They turn them into products. Commercial stories tend to be glossy and predictable, which to my mind is the opposite of what a story is. A story should be a little messy, and keep changing, growing, surprising.

I found the birth footage in an anthropological film. I thought what if this were framed in a different way? What if we saw this birth not as social studies, but as science fiction? That’s why I show it as a film within a film, following footage from Tarkovsky’s Solaris.

A language lesson from Michel Thomas is used throughout the film. To me, language is the ultimate mash-up. I love Michel Thomas’s approach. His tapes aren’t language drills so much as seductions and hypnotisms. You listen to foreign sounds and you absorb without even realizing it. Looking at art is a lot like learning a foreign language. You feel on the outside of something bewildering, something that communicates but the only way to get it is through habit and immersion.

There’s something absurd about the way the voice-over of the language lesson interacts with the images. It’s the loneliness of technology. I tried to imagine what if a person listening to a language lesson over and over began to fixate on the voice as if it were speaking to her personally, as if it were giving her advice on how to live her life. Magical thinking. William Gibson calls it apophenia or faulty pattern recognition.

The film was partly inspired by Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition. The challenge I set myself is to try to merge drama, documentary and animation footage. To see them not as separate fields, but as interacting forces. Drama, believability, imagination.