Dir: Joshua Bonnetta | Canada, Doc | 90′
Canadian filmmaker Joshua Bonnetta follows his 2017 documentary El Mar la Mar with this equally beguiling film about the phenomenon of clairvoyance, or second sight, in the Western Isles. The film also explores clairaudience, the supposed faculty of perceiving, as if by hearing, what is inaudible.
In the Outer Hebrides locals feel there is little distinction between Heaven and Earth. This untrammelled part of the British Isles is locked away from the buzz of the 21st century, its gentle emptiness, wide open seascapes and luminous cloud formations coalesce to create the ideal setting for all things surreal and inspired by unstructured consciousness, allowing the present to be sustained by the past and offering the locals a portal to their folkloric and linguistic heritage.
The Two Sights opens with the distant figure of Bonnetta silently positioning his microphone on a grassy coastline, subtly introducing the film’s main theme. Bonnetta’s delicately glowing 16mm images then provide the bewitching backcloth to a series of mysterious and ghostly tales voiced by local islanders (in Scottish Gaelic and English) recounting inexplicable sounds and enigmatic sightings that presage the passing away or continuing presence of their friends, animals and loved ones. Some claim the gift of second sight is passed down through families and generations, and now mourn its slow disappearance.
There are stories of dog skeletons, drowned villages, and family members passing away; although songs, silence and the shipping forecast are just as at home here. But like any great collection, the elements are less important than the underlying theme: the closer we are to nature, the closer we are to understanding the universe and how the past and present form a continuous loop uniting our souls forever as we pass visibly, and then invisibly through time.
The Two Sights is both captivating and compelling with its eerie beauty: a lulling ambient soundscape and breathtaking landscapes draw us into a story so ephemeral it could easily drift away in the foggy dusk of these atavistic islands. Bonnetta’s restrained approach avoids sensationalism in conveying the palpable otherworldly plane that exists beyond the six senses transporting us into a dimension that is mysterious and meaningful but not necessarily tragic or malign.
The only diegetic sound is provided by a group of local Scottish gospel singers led by a man with a smooth baritone who later manages to mingle his voice with nearby birdsong, lending a vaguely humorous twist. Wandering round this remote corner, Bonnetta adds further ethnographical texture with random sequences: a lonesome bagpipe player lends a tune and some peat cutters gossip as they unearth the island’s ancient form of fuel. “Sight by eye, sight by ear, two sights that ripple and flow together.”Bonnetta adds another muted but unforgettable film to his repertoire. MT
CINEMA DU REEL | 42nd DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL | 13-22 MARCH 2020