Mark Cousins gave a lecture on the art of the video essay during my time at Edinburgh University. The director and film buff extraordinaire is probably most well known for his Channel 4 documentary The Story of Film. Last year he delighted us again with A Story of Children and Film; another cinematic essay which studied world cinema and its representations of the intricacies of childhood experiences. Most of his films are held together by his delicious narration in his soothing voice which eventually hypnotises. Mania Akbari is an avant-grade film-maker from Iran whose earlier movies, which deal with sexuality, identity and women, have led to her exile from her home land. When Cousins was commissioned to write a brief essay on one of her movies, he did so in the form of a letter. A letter to Mania which forms the starting point of their cinematic collaboration Life May Be. Life May Be opens with Cousins addressing Mania, recalling his first letter to her. What follows is a cinematic documentation of the correspondence to follow. Each film-maker responds with another letter, now visual as well as literary. We join Mania and Mark as they take us all around the world as they discuss and ponder bigger philosophical questions about cinema, identity, gender and cultural variations between Iran and Europe.
We never encounter the two individuals meeting but yet they share an emotional and artistic bond which surpasses physical encounter. At times, Life May Be feels painfully self-indulgent, as though one is witnessing a stranger’s therapy session which grows tiresome and hard to care about. Yet, on other occasions both Akbari and Cousins strike chords which make me think and reflect on the society and culture around me. Cousins talks at length about nudity and comments on the contradiction of bikinis and underwear which divide the human form into unnatural halves and thirds and only provoke more intrigue and fascination with the socially suppressed areas of the body. Akbari shares family photos and images of her travels and adventures which allows us to understand her as a women as well as an artist. Life May Be lets us into the minds and emotions of two great contemporary film-makers whilst remaining funny and upbeat. At times, I grew impatient with the sheer narcissism of the whole affair but, on the whole, enjoyed gaining an insight into each individual and their perceptions of the life and culture around them.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.