Film Review: The Grand Bizarre


After wowing festival audiences at its world premiere at Locarno back in 2018, Jodie Mack’s hypnotic, experimental film-cum-documentary finally finds its way on to release via MUBI. Now that it’s finally here, what are we to make of Mack’s journey into textiled abstraction?

The Grand Bizarre is Mack’s first film approaching feature-length, though still at a spry 60 minutes. Similar in style and aesthetic motifs of as her shorter work, this new length brings with it space for development, movements, even a narrative in the broadest sense of the word. For fans of Mack’s juxtapositions of natural and synthetic imagery and of her fascination with repetition and patterns, The Grand Bizarre is surely the artist’s most accomplished work.

To describe The Grand Bizarre as a documentary feels a little to do it a disservice – those expecting a conventional filmed history of the textile industry are likely to be baffled – though this is undoubtedly a study of textiles, of our relationships with patterns and their extraordinary ubiquity. Humans barely figure across the film’s run time but the objects they make – suitcases, rugs, scarfs – are everywhere, and in their makers’ absence move as if with their own agency. Brought to life through stop-motion animation, they are made all the more magical through the rudimentary effects.

A vein of humour runs throughout the film, teased out by Mack’s sampled score –  manipulated natural sounds that invest her objects with movement and light. As the layers of the score build, crows cawing on waves crashing on burbled conversation, the images intensify into kaleidoscopic abstraction, moving through countless patterns too fast to register. It’s impossible not to wonder at just how ubiquitously we are surrounding daily by abstraction, indeed how spectacularly banal it seems yet how miraculous it is that we have selected and harnessed the patterns in nature to reshape the world around us. Mack finds the extraordinary in the everyday, crashing and juxtaposing and contorting until she finds harmony between them.

If it sounds po-faced, it’s not: The Grand Bizarre is nothing if not funny (and fun). A well-timed sneeze caps off a quiet moment towards the film’s end, and there’s a simple, almost childlike innocence in watching suitcases dancing of their own accord across a conveyor belt. If the film has a serious question, it’s to ask us how far we value the objects we manufacture and surround ourselves with, not to mention considering where they come from. The Grand Bizarre – itself a kind of celluloid tapestry of – makes us notice the magic in the mundane.

Christopher Machell @Dr_Machell