Hotel Monterey

Hotel Monterey ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Hotels are strange places. On the one hand, they are communal hubs hosting a neverending stream (until covid-19 amirite) of international and domestic travellers. On the other hand, they are compartmentalised into very private, anonymous spaces. Joining these discrete interiors is a labyrinth of hallways, fire exits and elevators. This minimalist film, which documents the various spaces in the titular hotel, visually captures the strange juxtaposition of a hotel being a place where lots of people are residing but also a space where people are not interested in communicating or interacting with one another.

Usually in documentaries where there is no narrator or onscreen host, the images shown are usually ones where the people being filmed are not directly conscious that they are being watched or are comfortable with the filmmaking taking place. What I found interesting in this film is that Chantal chooses to use footage where her filmmaking is a direct violation of the social rules of a hotel. The elevator sequences are interesting because the visitors are very aware of the camera, and presumably, Chantal or the cameraperson themselves, and are usually reticent or refuse to enter the spatially restricted space.
While there is footage of the lobby and some of the interior rooms, majority of the footage is of the lonely hallways. These are places one hurriedly navigates to either enter the privacy of their rooms, or to exit the hotel in question. Chantal’s focus on these alienating hallways emphasises how closed off she is in relation to any of the residents in the hotel. A friend mentioned the other day that a lot of her work seems to express some of the mental anguish that plagued her life, and while I have only seen four of her works (apparently she made some conventional comedies too), I would be in agreement. It could be argued that this work merely operates as a document of a hotel in a specific time and place, but the selection of material here conveys existential feelings.

Apart from the beginning, there is not many shots that include people, and when people do come into view within the hallways or elevators, they quickly shy away once they notice the static camera. It’s as if Chantal’s presence is burden, a hindrance, something to quickly remove oneself away from. Her most famous work, Jeanne Dielman, visually demonstrated the stultifying experience of a single mother living her life according to a rigid housekeeping routine. In a way, the elevator sequences are also visualisations of a type of routine. The elevators continually go and up and down: the doors open and doors close ;people enter and people exit; there are humans here but there are no interactions, or if there is, we are not privy due to the lack of sound.

I was worried a completely dead soundtrack would make me lose interest but in combination with Chantal’s predominately static camerawork, it actually has its own aesthetic effects. The removal of sound denies ambience, but it also prevents expectation and proper context, creating startling effects when otherwise minute things occur on screen. An example is one of the elevator sequences, where it appears it's just the cameraperson in there , but unexpectedly, a figure emerges and pushes the exit button, challenging our previous conception of the reality of the scene. Other examples is of the lonely hallways, where sometimes a person briefly enters the frame. We cannot hear the opening and closing of doors, the dings of the elevators or the approaching footsteps, so the appearance of humans begin to seem like strange eerie occurrences.

There’s a very assured command of visual language here. There are a few techniques, common as anything you see in cinema, but the ways in which she employs them is very clever. Those tracking shots are incredible precisely because she withholds the majority of camera movement until the end. Likewise with the use of pans in the conclusion.