Hotel Monterey

Hotel Monterey ★★★★½

Wow, I did not expect this. Just a tick over an hour of total silence, Akerman filmed for fifteen straight hours at the titular hotel where she would sometimes stay in New York. She would simply place the camera down anywhere that felt right and film for as long as her gut told her. The film is full of still and tracking shots of the hotel, with very few people on screen. And it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s so delicately simple yet pure art. This deserves to be shown on a constant loop at an art gallery. Most of the takes are rather long and the length of each shot, combined with the silence and the pure stillness of everything, the total lack of in-focus humans throughout the film insist that the viewer absorb the shots differently than they would with a traditional narrative film. A few minutes in I began approaching this like I was at an art gallery, analysing different paintings and what they were trying to say, what beauty or mystery they were hiding below the surface. Hotel Monterey is so eerily beautiful that it’s impossible not to become submerged in it’s mystery. Yet, of course, it’s not simply different shots spliced together for no reason. There’s no narrative but to me, there’s a story here. The brilliance is it’s totally, completely different and unique for each viewer. Everything is so opaque and simply sits there, sort of toying with you, knowing it’s got you caught in it’s mystery and eeriness and begging you to explore it more.

At first, when the camera was situated amongst a few people - real people staying in the hotel - I half-wished for some sound so we could hear what they were discussing. Akerman places the camera in the elevator and simply watches on as people take it down to their destination, seemingly unaware of the camera’s presence. Yet the people quickly dissipate from the film, as the camera begins to head away from the hubbub of the foyer and deeper into the building. Akerman soon devoids the film of any human life, instead taking her camera to what looks like the basement, or at least the darkest, most unwelcoming part of the hotel. Here is where the film absolutely hooked me and created something I had no idea was coming - horror. The film becomes this unnerving, ominous beast, totally revelling in it’s silence and eerie stillness. Akerman finds the deepest, darkest corners of this building and engulfs us with blackness, with hallways akin to The Shining (this came first) and only the slightest colours. Signs pointing to exits frequently appear yet they always point out of shot, as if there’s no real escape possible at all. Akerman places the camera near another elevator, this time watching the doors open and close from a distance, with the odd out-of-frame person briefly passing by, as if a ghost. A metallic blue light emits from the elevator each time the doors ominously slide open. A very inhuman light, robotic, completely unwelcoming. We visit different hallways, one a very brief shot but a completely nightmarish one. We see a small hallway with no doors situated in the corner at the end, yet the shot seems distorted. Something’s not right. One of the doors suddenly opens a crack and half a face briefly stares out before the door closes again. And the shot cuts, just leaving us in limbo. Akerman then begins tracking down these hallways, as the darkness seems to engulf the frame even more and closes in on our nerves. The tracking is so delicately slow that it’s angsty and unnerving. You know we won’t discover anything at the end of the hallway, where all we can see is a black abyss, yet your palms get sweaty anyway, you grip something tight. The silence becomes deafening. The film becomes something like a psychological game. You imagine a camera being the POV of a silent character, someone who wanted to come to the hotel to escape the grind of New York, to slip down into the depths of the building to get away from it all and contemplate, maybe escape, yet they found something evil down here. Shots track forward and then they track back, as if retreating. A small slice of light turns on and off as the camera backs away, as if it’s been seen, or perhaps has seen too much.

The darkness then begins to dissipate itself. As if the dead of the night has been passed and morning has awoken. We see outside the windows, a few buildings, a road, yet everything looks bathed in total whiteness. There’s no colour outside, like someone forgot to fill in their paint-by-numbers section. Yet the light continues to erase the dark, Akerman contrasting the eerie horror of the total blackness seen earlier with the more calming presence of morning, daytime, light. The camera soon takes us outside, seemingly onto the roof of the hotel. We see where the hotel is situated - an unknown place, yet cramped, slightly dilapidated. We see a long road with very few cars driving. The camera begins to pan around and we see a lake, we see more buildings, yet very little activity. There’s now a definite calmness to proceedings. As if our unnamed character had hit rock bottom during the night and has come out of it a better person. As if the hotel itself was a manifestation of this unseen, unnamed, unknown person’s mind (Akerman herself?), the darkness and pure horror having taken them over, yet having now come through it reborn. Yet as the camera continues panning around in a total 360, similar to La Chambre, another unnerving feeling returns. Tall buildings seem to surround the hotel. There are too many windows, watching. Everything feel closed in, claustrophobic. The calmness erodes and we feel trapped. Maybe we never want to come down from the roof. Maybe our unnamed character has realised they've got through the despair, they've escaped rock bottom, but the darkness still exists, it’s always there. The camera pans upwards towards the sky, a haze of white cloud. We stare into the abyss, nowhere to go.

A simply brilliant piece of artistic cinema, and a superb way to start my journey into Akerman’s work. I read this back and think wow, all this came from such a ostensibly simple film, such an experimental endeavour, yet such is the power of cinema. To create great art from absolutely anywhere, to be able to move people to such an extent where I am transfixed by an utterly silent film giving me the barest of details. Less than bare. A superb subjective work, the beauty is 100 different people could watch this and take something inherently different from it. Already I want to revisit it and analyse shots again and again, wanting to see if they’ll show me anything new, if I can decipher any more mystery from the film. What a wonderful, terrifying, mystifying journey.

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