“I don’t know where I’m going,” writes Ján Kollár in his diary. He’s recently been booked in for surgery, his chances of surviving it are 50/50, and he has now set off on a literal and philosophical wander in the time he knows he has left. All of this is learned from his diary and without a single word of spoken dialogue at the opening of 5 October, the directorial debut of his photographer and cinematographer brother, Martin.
The date refers to the scheduled operation and the film is a poetic account of his walkabout, as well as a portrait of a man confronting his own mortality. He does this by going on what has been referred to in press interviews as an “Easy Rider-like” bicycle trip, traversing landscapes across the globe from France and the Balkans to Thailand. In a similar sense to the freedom expressed by the terminally-ill subject of Julian Temple’s The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson, he’s left behind the weight of the word in order to live the time he has left. In a polar opposite fashion to Temple’s film, Kollár presents this entirely visually. Largely Ján’s travels are missing context, rejected the notion of the film as a travelogue. Instead, minor details or feelings are conveyed through the pages of Ján’s diary turning, shot from above in a locked-off shot Wes Anderson would relish.
Kollár imbues his brother’s journey with an elemental and timeless quality. He’s often shot in environs in which the natural world makes its presence felt. This isn’t just a case of photographing him against stunning vistas (though there are some of those) or as he closely observes a dung beetle hard at work (though he does). Instead Kollár frames the endurance, solace, rhythm and beauty of nature in even the less likely scenarios; from sheep blocking a road, to weeds flicking past the camera lens as it sweeps through a valley.
Movement also plays a key part in the visual language of the film, with Ján’s own continuing momentum – and the inexorable march of time – echoed by tracking shots. When things do slow down, brief glimpses of Ján’s diary colour otherwise mundane moments of quiet contemplation with fear, acceptance, anxiety or regret. One note mentions an attempt to contact a woman, presumably Ján’s daughter, for her birthday but with no answer. It adds an additional layer of poignancy to this already lyrical momento mori.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson