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Mar 31, 2009

Review: Keep Looking

by Kelly Robinson

Keep Looking

Keep Looking (Cherche toujours) opens with an intimate close-up of a face and voice-over narration recalling a dream. This is not a conventional documentary about the nature of scientific explorations, and the science the film itself explores is also not entirely typical. The study of singing dunes, crumpled paper and the shape of leaves are only some of the interests of the group of scientists whose work we follow in their somewhat claustrophobic and chaotic laboratory. The chaos around them however is not indicative of their minds, which in contrast demonstrate a precision and level-headedness to the world around them. ‘Mad scientists’ they are not. Their furrowed brows and head in hands in quiet unguarded moments reveal intensely contemplative minds.

A fervent discussion between the group contains scientific jargon that is completely out of the viewer’s grasp:

‘A pure exponential is a constant equal to 1.’
-‘Because flow=lambda B.’
‘Exactly. If the flow is a pure exponential, its lambda.’

Quite right. Their ruminations are not alienating and the viewer comes to understand the purpose behind their thoughts – their pursuits change how we perceive the world. However they’re not completely oblivious to more trivial distractions. One scientist even complains ‘I’ve got a Madonna song in my head.’

Their day to day existence is rather unusual. One employee spends weeks in the park photographing plants. There’s much to admire in their striking intellect but also in their child-like awe of the world around them: ‘Two years ago, I was studying crumpled paper’, explains one scientist, ‘I’d crumple the paper, uncrumple it, and look at the shape.’

The film uses delightfully simple animation of the narrator’s dreams and poetic montages of photographs of patterns in nature; such appealing images of shapes and colours encourage an equally child-like awe of the world in the viewer. I was reminded of when on day trips at infant school our teacher would encourage us to pick up leaves from the ground to take back to class for a closer examination. The veins on the leaves and the different shapes and colours were a source of fascination for all of us children. It is this innocent, enquiring nature that sometimes we lose as we get older and that the film encourages us to retain. The recounting of dreams demonstrates also how one must never underestimate the unconscious as a source of inspiration. Where the documentary works best is perhaps in seeking to inspire in the viewer a Darwinian delight in the natural world to ‘keep looking’, as the title of the film tells us.

After recreating dunes in a lab the scientists finally get to make an expedition to see the real thing. There is no need for digital effects here as the breathtaking beauty of the natural world is revealed through a static camera. The scientists on their knees move their hands in the sand showing us that, as they had anticipated, dunes do sing, and how lovely it is indeed.

Dr Kelly Robinson
Film programmer (Birds Eye View, The White Bus) and Lecturer in Silent Film at the University of Southampton

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