Life is surreal.
As true as the above statement is, "Imagination" co-writer and director Eric Leiser goes a step further by venturing deep inside the surrealistic world of two twin girls, Anna and Sarah (played by real life twins Nikki and Jessi Haddad), who discover the safety and sanctity of their own imaginations while attempting to deal with their own individual disabilities along with the seemingly fractured world around them.
Leiser, at 24-years-old already an experienced director and animator, shot "Imagination" on a $110,000 budget over a period of three years between 2004 and 2007. The result is a unique, at times uncomfortable film that is simultaneously challenging and comforting.
Born to parents (Courtney Sanford and Travis Poelle) who cannot comprehend the world in which they live, Anna and Sarah seemingly grasp what the unimaginative human mind cannot conceive and enter a world where divinity and humanity dance intimately.
When the neuropsychologist with whom they are working (Edmund K. Gildersleeve) ultimately fails to reach them, thus challenging his own belief system and faith in science, the audience is left with more questions than answers. This bold approach to filmmaking isn't, by any means, for the typical filmgoer accustomed to being spoonfed emotions, thoughts and non-stop distraction.
With Leiser's "Imagination," the viewer must become open to a full sensory experience in order to remotely interpret the experiences, scenes, images and words.
While one easily remains practically hypnotized by Leiser's use of imagery to evoke the very surreal world of one child with Asperger's Syndrome and another going blind, less enchanting is Leiser's incorporation of live action to the scenario.
Particularly where the twins' parents are concerned, the live action sequences are often introduced rather jarringly and, in nearly each case, interrupt the film's emotional and technical continuity. Initially, I pondered whether this could be an intentional choice to imply the disconnect the girls experience when humanity attempts to infiltrate their world. While it's impossible to be certain, any intentionality is ultimately hindered by the generally weak and unconvincing performances of both Sanford and Poelle in portraying the parents who are ultimately locked out of a world they cannot begin to understand. Both Nikki and Jessi Haddad perform nicely in rather unusual roles, while Gildersleeve adds some nice touches as the bewildered neuropsychologist.
Likewise, while the 16mm camera work by Nathan Meier is often intertwined beautifully, the film's modest budget becomes more obvious in scenes where Leiser is obviously reaching beyond the grasp of what his modestly budgeted technology will allow. In a film of such deep thought and meaning, the attempt to recreate an earthquake felt forced, unnecessary and, most bothersome, simply unconvincing.
While it would be relatively simple to nitpick Leiser's interpretation of the Asperger's sensory experience, it's not difficult to fathom that Leiser's vision was less a factual accounting and more an imaginative exploration what it means for a human to live inside such a surreal existence. Leiser, obviously influenced by Czech surrealism, cannot be taken literally...a need that too often exists for American moviegoing audiences more accustomed to Hollywood's paint-by-numbers methods of filmmaking.
"Imagination" is incredibly bold and, yes, imaginative filmmaking that defies Hollywood convention in leaning more towards the experimental works of such filmmakers as Harmony Korine or, even moreso, contemporary Swedish director William Olsson. Much like Olsson's recent film "The Traveler," Leiser utilizes an almost minimalistic approach that makes the moviegoer more accountable to their own moviegoing experience.
The film is companioned wondrously by the touching score of Jeffrey Leiser (who also co-wrote the script). "Imagination," likely a film unlike anything you've previously seen, is currently on the arthouse and festival circuit. For more information on "Imagination" or the other works of Eric Leiser, visit the filmmaker's website at Albino Fawn
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic