Meditation is either someone’s idea of heaven or hell. For some, it can be a vital break from the chaos of the daily grind, for others, it’s a gaping void of boredom that serves only to confirm their lack of mental discipline. In the same way, Ruxandra Mitache’s film Untitled Ritual could either be a melodious breath of fresh air or ten minutes of your life you’ll never get back - it depends on you.
As the short begins, constellations of birdsong bloom around the waving fronds of plants. The viewer is submerged within the thick grasses as the camera bobs uncertainly in the dusky gloom. We wait. Perhaps we are a crouching tiger getting ready to pounce; we could be a hidden explorer fleeing some unknown forest foe - these projections remain unconfirmed throughout the entire film. Nothing happens.
In a way, this deprivation of action is soothing. By allowing the audience to focus only on sound and the gentle movements of the surrounding plants - Mitache doesn’t even film the first part in colour - the film immerses us within the setting. We can imagine ourselves a blade of black and white grass with nothing to do except sway gently in the breeze. After five minutes, the scene changes and the screen is awash with the blurred greens and purples of flowers. The camera slowly runs down the length of a stem, giving centre stage to this tiny yet wondrous structure.
However, some of the calming qualities of these scenes are disrupted by juddering camera work and intentional wrinkles in the soundtrack. Although the majority of the film favours smooth pans over the close up scenes, once or twice the camera suddenly jumps forward, only slightly, which breaks the meditative spell. Mitache uses a similar technique on the audio accompaniment as the serene sounds are scrambled in places with scratches. While it is clear that these discontinuities are intentional, what they are trying to achieve is uncertain.
Untitled Ritual’s rejection of the traditional plotline of a short film is brave. Even though its appeal may be highly dependable on its audience, one gets the sense that mass approval isn’t what the director is striving for. Instead, she gives us an intensely calm, almost disembodying experience that, with a few tweaks to the camera work and the soundtrack, could be equally at home in a cinema or an art gallery.
'Untitled Ritual' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2020.