I still remember the day she went away.
Laura. My wife.
It was over 20 years ago, but there are still times I question every single moment of the day. I question the last time we made love. I question our last conversation. I question her love. I question my love. I question myself over and over and over again wondering to myself "Why did I let her go?"
There was a part of me that knew deep down inside it would be the last time I'd ever see her, but I let her go anyway. I chose to believe the semi-mumbled words of "I need to go see my mama."
I thought of Laura often while watching Steven Adam Renkovish's latest film, the meditative and semi-experimental Fugue, a companion piece to his upcoming feature film Awakening and a film that he openly admits is influenced, one could say rather profoundly, by the unexpected traumatic death of one of his best friends not long after he began writing the film in October 2016.
Fugue stars Brittany Renee Smith as Lilith, a rather willowy figure whose presence in the film is seemingly constructed of both shadow and light. The entirety of the film's nearly 11-minute running time centers around Lilith's achingly vulnerable exploration of her life after an unexplained loss that leaves her in a soul-drenched purgatory of sorts somewhere between grief and longing, hope and despair.
Renkovish and Smith are both dear friends and frequent collaborators, a combination that doesn't always work but seems to add a rather mystical depth as Smith is clearly in sync with Renkovish's vision for Lilith while giving it her own remarkable transparency and transcendence.
I first became aware of the South Carolina-based Renkovish in late 2016 when I reviewed his film A Beautiful Silence and instantly took a liking to his somewhat alt-spiritual yet remarkably surrendered approach to filmmaking that is far more concerned with truth and integrity than it is multiplex appeal. Fugue is shot in much the same way, a film that not only works within the confines of microcinema but actually benefits from it. Renkovish's use of natural light, especially that of candlelight surrounding Lilith, is simple yet remarkably effective and his willingness to trust the viewer to "get it" by not dominating the intimate story with artificial light gives the film almost a dark sense of entombment that could, one supposes, reflect the fugue-like state in which Lilith finds herself.
While one might reasonably expecting a film centered around loss and longing to be dripping with heightened emotions, Renkovish does a terrific job of keeping Fugue in a, well, fugue-like state. Smith's performance exudes a sense of dissociation that feels relentless and ever present. Fugue at times, however, seemingly becomes something more. Whether intentionally or not, Fugue seemingly follows a rhythm not far removed from that of Bach's most esteemed fugues with an introductory exposition, a middle section that journeys through the dissociative pieces and a finale that brings us back to where we started yet with each dissociative piece drawn together tightly toward that which brought everything together in the beginning.
It is that sense of rhythm that, for me, weaves its way into Lilith's journey and guides her through the stages of grief or the loss and the longing or however you want to see it. It's as if Lilith's willowy figure dances amongst the shadows, occasionally finding light and occasionally finding dark yet learning how to peacefully co-exist within both.
Beautiful and mystical, rhythmic and thought-provoking, Fugue is both transcendent and deeply grounded, a film that practically demands introspection from those who view it and ultimately changes form and meaning for the individual viewer. Having only recently been completed, Fugue is getting set for the indie fest circuit. For more information on the film, visit the official website linked to in the credits.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic