Isiah Medina’s “88:88” was a sensation on the festival circuit, and it’s now available for viewing via Mubi. The film itself defies easy description, as well as the word “film”; it doesn’t have a narrative or characters, although there are faces we come to recognize over the course of its 65 minutes, but it’s not purely abstract, either. Its breakneck collage of images and sound, often superimposed over each other, sometimes abruptly cutting off and restarting, is like being dropped into the Snapchat feed of someone you’ve never met, trying to decipher their life in bursts of a few seconds at a time. Its subjects are often shot filming their own lives on smartphones, sometimes held up to the lens of a Red or 16mm camera, but the moments they capture are purposefully isolated: We hear a keening that could be screaming, or is it laughter, and then see a figure laid out on the floor of his apartment, whether in the depths of sorrow or a drunken haze we never quite find out. Hands trace a philosophy text near a cheap plastic cup and a bottle of wine and young people address the camera as if spilling their life’s secrets, but the words and images rarely match up with each other.
Medina’s overt subject is poverty — the title comes from the display of clocks reset when the electricity is cut off — but “88:88” is equally concerned with staging an assault on cinema’s boundaries. (Medina has said he’d like to make it available free online; Mubi’s $4.99 a month will have to do for now.) The recurring sight of a “Sortie de Usine” sign feels like a deliberate callback to the Lumière brothers’ “Workers Leaving the Factory at La Ciotat,” a reminder of how much the world has changed in the century-plus since, and how comparatively little the movies have. The 23-year-old Medina’s interviews are full of bluster, and it’s easy to be repelled by “88:88’s” ostentatious overreaching, its mixture of hip-hop and classic philosophy, onscreen text messages and black and white celluloid. It makes great, lunging grasps for the future, and sometimes comes back with a handful of air. But to say you’ve never seen anything like it isn’t a compliment: It’s just a statement of fact.
Reviews of “88:88”
Adam Cook, Sight & Sound
The film’s narrative strands aren’t easily deciphered. “88:88” doesn’t have characters so much as late Godardian figures that, in monologue and dialogue, contribute to what feels at times like a collective diary entry in poetry. A couple in their bedroom, friends at a basketball court, people hanging out, struggling, telling stories, joking, living – what registers is a sense of life being lived and yet not bound to the confines of a film, extending beyond it. To describe 88:88 is to necessarily talk around it, as it purposely transcends words (while also using them as a tool, but one with limitations). Considered in its seemingly infinite scope (and in only 65 minutes) are issues of love, ethics, technology, race, politics and class – and none feel separate from the others. These are exciting, personally charged images concerned with solving real problems on a micro level and pondering their implications on a macro level, aiming to do what all the best films do: to break down the barriers between each other, and between thinking and feeling. It represents an important moment in ennobling filmmaking’s philosophical potential, leaving so much in the dust. With the arrival of “88:88,” the cinema has a lot of catching up to do with Isiah Medina.
Steve Macfarlane, Brooklyn Rail
Here’s a motion picture for anyone who has craved to be challenged again by cinema” as a language of montage”, beyond auteurism (or Godard, whose later works already reflexively anneal any mention of Medina’s technique) and its own narrow, Hollywood-beholden heuristics; beyond that One Perfect Shot, that bravura elongated single take, that fervid checklisting of scannable and samplable homages and riffs. I’m going to enjoy watching Medina proceed in establishing himself as an artist of seemingly contradictory philosophical, socioeconomic, and formalist presences, having apparently spent more money on festival submissions already than “88:88’s” entire shooting budget.
Phil Coldiron, Cinema Scope
At a time when the term “experimental cinema” has come to designate more or less a set of potential generic forms, “88:88” is a real experiment, which means that its failures, or what appear to be its failures, themselves produce thought; chief among these are its occasional lapses into inscrutability, the result of creating rhythms which are too dense and too fast for any viewer to process in real time. But this “failure,” tied to our accepted notions of “reading” moving-image work, nonetheless points squarely to the film’s great and generous demand: to begin every cinematic relation from degree zero. I could say that “88:88” is a masterpiece, but masterpieces are the domain of the past; Medina has taken his first step into the future.
Jordan Cronk, Keyframe
Comprising untold hours of footage shot on a variety of formats, the film resembles a diaristic collage of experiences and emotions, featuring fleeting glimpses of the director’s friends and family, which he then spins through a poetic, self-reflexive prism of texts and testimonies. The rigorously cut-up and layered imagery, which resembles late-period Godard in its collisions of vivid color and natural light, is matched to a soundtrack pulsing with snatches of words and phrases and verses which fall in and out and across the mix in a dizzying reflection of media overload. The title refers to the numbers displayed on a reset digital clock when electricity is cut and then restored, a comment on poverty and social stratification which the filmmaker has seen destroy those close to him. Medina’s radical admixture of the experimental and experiential has yielded a unique work, one unbound to tradition and with very few contemporaries.
Daniel Kasman, Mubi
I found much of the “thought “of this film impenetrable on first viewing, and “88:88 “certainly does the audience no favors with hand-holding or providing initial tools to understand the dense hyperspace that is created by so much layering of image and sound on the screen. But the film is nevertheless an incredible breath of fresh air for North American cinema; along with Khalik Allah’s “Field Niggas”, it is a raw work that seems to be disregarding the vast majority of the norms of conventional and experimental cinema in America and Canada, and embracing radical aesthetics more common to the edgiest of European art cinema, re-forming them to fit both the idiom that best appeals to each director, but also finding a form that responds to the social group and class that are the two films’ focus. “88:88 “thus appears as a bleeding edge kind of documentary, snatches of faces and stories (several very rough and moving), re-cut and re-conceptualized to think through Medina’s set of disconsolate, probably lower-middle-class young men and women with all the tools of laptop cinema at his disposal, achieving a suspended, darting sense of time and a digitally collapsed, infinitely versatile exploration of space. The film will travel from Locarno to the vaunted Wavelengths section of the Toronto International Film Festival in September, where I hope more audiences can interact with this stunning work equal parts beguiling and frustrating, and tease out its many dancing flights of thought, feeling, and beauty.
Zach Lewis, Desistfilm
Medina’s film brims with stories. There are little subplots of friends being locked up, friends fighting other friends, and friends shooting the sun. They’re usually Medina’s friends who seem to communicate through solely through text messages, freestyles, and dense twentieth-century philosophy texts. By all accounts, this should not lead to a very good movie. Nonsensical conversations about what “infinity” means to one of the characters (one has lost their “trust” in it) is taken very seriously and interjected by other friends as if these little bits of “highlosophy” have not just Wittgensteinian meaning, but emotional meaning. It isn’t until the dense texts become overlapped on the soundtrack that their use begins to make sense. Indeed, the specific text doesn’t matter, but abstract language and rhythm of academic words just sound like yet another freestyle. And that’s it, one long freestyle of semi-rural Canada, its images and sound design fluttering to a rhythm all Medina’s own. There’s always so much to grapple: an intermittent DJ scratch, 4:3 images overlaid on 16:9 landscapes, glimpses of University of Winnipeg, overlapping voice-over, iPad games, and delirious animation of the recurring 88:88 (a blanking digital clock and probably a little in-joke for the all the “infinity” talk), all run together as if Linklater’s stoner characters have recorded and remixed the little details of their lives.
Michael Sicinski, Mubi
There are fragments of an ostensible narrative. Or perhaps it is better to say, there are figures whose affect and experiences we observe across the running time of Medina’s film. They bob in and out of our view—a coterie of young Filipino-Canadian friends and lovers, given to creativity and anger and philosophizing and confusion. But “88:88” does not adhere to any given point of view. It hangs out, but in a jittery, caffeinated way, holding onto present moments without deadening them into connective tissue, mere “moving-towards.” Or, if there is a point of view, it’s that of “the digital image,” which is indiscriminate and regards a private breakdown with the same impassive fascination it affords greenish-yellow light through a treetop. “88:88 “is a young film about youth. Medina is aware of the traditions he’s engaging (Godard, Trecartin, and Raya Martin come to mind), but like so many other places his film fitfully stops, these figures are merely momentary flashpoints, orbiting the others with no impulse toward hierarchy. This is unbridled filmmaking, resoundingly alive.
Neil Bahadur, Letterboxd
The movie is dominated by the idea, mentioned by some already, that those living in poverty live in suspended time. We end up with some images I’ve never even seen, probably created on a computer, one of which is the seeming digital creation of a space on a grid, and a sound follows the addition of each block. We hear that sound again when we see his brother Avery walking in the snow, and with this sonic association in this suspended time we infer that we ourselves are stuck on a grid, moving but every move seemingly predetermined. And this repeats itself within the eventual repetition of shots near the end of shots we had seen near the beginning. Birds and dust for example, initally they had seemed a juxtaposition made for sheer grace and aesthetic beauty, but as the images repeat, the meaning is changed: these birds and dust are free in a way that we currently are not. These reveals, these shifting of meanings, this is a sophistication extremely rare in contemporary cinema. But at the same time saying what is “for cinema and not” is reductive for a work like this. This was not intended to express sophistication, this is a work from the heart, for loved ones. The sounds of the grid follow Avery even as he sits in a car. Yet it’s hopeful. We see old structures, left behind to rot by capitalism..but who’s to say these structures can not be re-made, re-thought, re-constructed because it went through cinema? For me, they look like pieces of a Roman Coliseum. This was a film that was thought of frame by frame, and sound by sound.
Willow Catelyn, Letterboxd
It is at once cinema of the people, a snapshot of overlaying imagery on the beauty of human relationships, and a reflection of poverty. I look into the eyes of the 2 year old girl that is staying with us and feel something resonant. She’s unburdened by this world and innocent. Isiah Medina does something here with faces that reminds me of that purity of this little girl. It’s reminiscent of “As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty” but it’s more level, and on the ground than Mekas’ film. There’s a warmth that penetrates all the overlaying images. For as much as we’ve talked about the formal ingenuity of 88:88 in every review, and we should, I’m more struck by Medina’s humanism. His need to make a movie with his friends about a struggle that is all too real and affecting all of us is what makes this special.