The Strife of Love in a Dream: An art film about fear, faith and lots of snakes
The music and the visuals move in perfect synchronicity, building up to a climax that is a powerful and gripping sensory experience.
Atarax is a medication prescribed to those suffering from anxiety. It's also effective against snake bite on occasion and certain allergies.
In Camille Henrot's The Strife of Love in A Dream, the production of this medicine in a factory is one of the narratives that runs through the short film. There are other tracks that run parallel to this one. Henrot shows us pilgrims in Tiruvannamalai, where devotees snake around the Annamalai Hill as part of their ritual pilgrimage. And then there are the actual snakes -- in sculpture, films, cartoons and in reality. Look carefully, and you'll notice the curving, winding shapes that appear repeatedly, whether it's in a machine's conveyor belt or the line of pilgrims or the shape of the snake as it appears in pop culture.
Anthropologist, collector and artist, Henrot won the Silver Lion for her video titled Grosse Fatigue at the Venice Biennale this year and the assurance of her filmmaking is evident in The Strife of Love in a Dream, which was made a few years ago as part of Centre Pompidou's Paris-Delhi-Bombay exhibition. There's not a single word spoken in the 11 and a half minutes of the film; all we hear is a mesmerising soundtrack of metallic sounds and conchshells. The music and the visuals move in perfect synchronicity, building up to a climax that is a powerful and gripping sensory experience.
The Strife of Love in a Dream is all about fear and the way it's managed by organised systems like a pharmaceutical industry, popular entertainment and religion. The one element tying all of these different strands together is the snake. Henrot cleverly reminds the viewer of the ambivalence of the snake as a symbol. It lies at the root of banishment from Eden, it enables a glorious suicide for Cleopatra (as depicted by Elizabeth Taylor); its ability to shed its skin has led to it being accorded the status of Brahmin in Hinduism and it is associated with Shiva, who is the Destroyer as well as the one who saves creation by absorbing the terrible poison released by the Samudra Manthan.
Despite the lack of verbal commentary, Henrot's film beautifully articulates how the various systems capitalise upon people's anxieties and offer solutions to fear, like the neatly-packaged pills of Atarax or the make-believe stories of vanquishing evil in art and films, as well as the ritual at Annamalai Hill (it culminates with a massive bonfire, which looks spectacularly awe-inspiring in Henrot's film). Faith -- whether in medication or divinity -- gives the believer the strength to counter their fears even while making them hypersensitive to symbols of its pervasiveness. Like snake venom, it is both the poison as well as the antidote.
The Strife of Love in a Dream is being screened at Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai.
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