Receiving its Northern Ireland debut screening at the Belfast Film Festival (probably), Junun is a documentary from Paul Thomas Anderson that follows the recording process of the album of the same name by Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express. Lee reviews.
It’s hard to imagine a universe where the uninitiated could gain much from Junun, but let’s not rule out the possibility entirely. For one, while it very specifically documents some key moments in the recording of an album of the same name by a diverse group of international collaborating musicians, all of which could benefit with some insider context, it does so without much real subjectivity, thereby granting an open pass to all comers. There’s little dialogue, few moments of specific crafting, no narrative or trials to conquer; just music, the recording process, and the odd tangential image or sequence to break up that one-room experience.
What that offers the viewer is something of a closed-door relationship; one in which we never feel like we’re truly involved in the happenings on screen. And there are some interesting concepts there, especially when you consider our typical relationship with music: either impersonal or embodied (via dance/singing). To adapt that experience to a visual medium seems apt, if perhaps at the cost of audience participation or enjoyment, which tends to be an overriding want from music.
At the same time, we get as close to the music as can be: revolving in the inner circle of the process, resting with the restless, leering in the downtime, even when things get almost heated with the female singers. There’s an undeniable intimacy, but we learn nothing of how these songs came to be, where this collaboration began, what the goal was or the concept behind it or the means to their end; again, it evokes our relationship with music and how we often take the impersonal and make it personal, writing our own narrative.
It’s experimental in all the unspecific ways you might expect from a filmmaker perhaps just trying to have fun with the subject. Touches of the culture are interspliced with the music, and here with a little added context, it’s enjoyable to imagine the reversal as Paul Thomas Anderson attempts to bring Jonny Greenwood’s script to life for once (though the actual arrangements were by Shye Ben Tzur). There’s certainly subtle attempts at capturing the aesthetics and tone of particular arrangements hinted throughout; whether this robs the piece of its objectivity will depend on the viewer and their interest.
All said, this certainly isn’t for everyone; in fact, it’s almost certainly for no one but the creators themselves. Most of the dialogue is in various untranslated Israeli (he unwittingly assumes) dialects, the music is very much rooted traditional instrumentation of the area despite its attempts to broaden its sound, and if you aren’t aware of what this is for, you might not even realise how interesting a collaborative project this is, as the film never deems it important to explain to you what exactly is happening. Still, for those interesting in spending 50 minutes with something a little different, you could do far less interesting things with your time.
Big Picture Reviews do not score documentaries. Read about it here.
[This film was viewed as part of the Belfast Film Festival; if you feel like checking it out, there are a number of other shows on that you can read up on by clicking here!]