The avant-garde or experimental approach to filmmaking has always carried a somewhat dubious reputation. How much can one truly challenge conventions without sacrificing the story at the heart of it all? Too often, the indie scene finds itself overstuffed with a plethora of charmless, uninspired pieces that hide their shortcomings behind the experimental genre’s proverbial shield.
Every once in a while, though, we are graced with a film that breaks the mold in the best of ways. Profoundly beautiful and intriguing, Colin Hickey’s Perennial Light happens to be that film. It’s set to premiere in Dublin, Ireland, on the 25th of February.
In what is essentially a sprawling retrospective of life as a whole, the story is set in the Irish countryside, where a young boy’s (Finn O’Donovan) life unfolds starting from infancy. The memories of a friend (Clara Rose Hickey) he lost along the way plague his existence, spurring him towards a profound journey of self-discovery. We see him through the years, where he’s played by Jack O’Mahony and Colin Hickey, respectively. Dialogue is nonexistent and the sound design is minimal, but the film brilliantly leverages cinematography and music to tell its tale. There’s a reverence exercised by Hickey that extends beyond the characters. Everything around them feels tethered to their existence. The sky, wildlife, farm animals, plants, old structures, and cityscapes make frequent and deliberate appearances.
Hickey’s camerawork is downright stunning. The film is presented in all black-and-white, with the lack of color lending an eerie yet etheric look to the plot. There’s a richness to each image, layered with long takes and compositions that would make the great Béla Tarr proud. In certain aspects, it feels like the spiritual successor to the poetic and measured works such as The Turin Horse or Satantango. In that sense, everything on screen feels grounded, yet the inherent focus on textures and meticulous details morphs reality into something almost otherworldly.
Each shot has a place in Hickey’s intricate puzzle, and every minute detail stands out because of how purposefully it is showcased. Where Perennial Light also breaks the mold is by introducing hand-drawn animated segments as well. These visuals by Paolo Chianta convey a more existential message, offering a new perspective on what the characters are feeling.
Not a minute of its runtime feels wasted. With well over an hour to work with, Hickey does right by the experimental genre’s namesake. His vision is bold and presented with expressive authenticity. It’s this level of cohesion that binds Perennial Light together, making it not just an unconventional delight but a deeply touching masterpiece in its own right.