The Way South

This 1981 study of the third world, which takes us from Amsterdam down to the Nile, poses no overarching thesis–filmmaker Johan van der Keuken discards the colonial assumption that he understands the world, focusing as much on his own efforts to see as on his apparent subjects. The title refers to the economic split between the northern and southern hemispheres, yet van der Keuken also finds hints of the third world in some Dutch squatters being evicted from a vacant luxury building. The sight of people struggling at the margins of society unites the diverse locales, and clearly van der Keuken sympathizes with his subjects, but his subtle editing and camera placement are what make this film extraordinary. He intercuts multiple perspectives within a scene to escape the inevitable limitations of his own point of view, creating a sense of space as open, malleable, and free. At the same time he acknowledges his distance from the subjects, using almost voyeuristic high angles and letting people look into and mug for the camera. Van der Keuken also respects the temporality of the various cultures: in one beautifully revealing sequence, Cairo commuter trains repeatedly disrupt street traffic in a study of multiple speeds and rhythms that reveals more about urban diversity than any essay could. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Thursday, March 4, 6:00, 312-443-3737. –Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.