It becomes a long, strange trip into the colonial imagination. A member of the Rotterdam Class of 2017, Rey Deserves revisiting in the limelight of Lucrecia Martel's Zama, bringing its own version of total cinema through its often lurid, Sokurov-tinged vision of unearthed legends and memories—quite literally, as some of the mixed 35mm, 16mm, and Super-8 film was shot back in 2011, then buried in Atallah's garden. What else is in there?
It's remarkably beautiful, not least when it’s consumed by the chemical transformations of celluloid, in a way that most recalls Bill Morrison’s Decasia. That film was an assemblage of images already ravaged by time, and Atallah artificially reproduces that form of damage (or enhancement) to ravishing effect. Images stutter and explode into storms of color, the soundtrack crackling along with the visual “snow” that fills the screen; . . . clouds of mildew appear to devour the image.
Even in this familiar thematic vein, Atallah’s approach is singular, his focus on de Tounens’s descent into dementia presented in vivid color and with fantastical elements. The scenes in which de Tounens appears to be actually drawing water from a spring, or is crowned by straw-men in the forest, are possessed of the kind of romanticized imagination that both gave rise to early conquest and fueled later ones.