At Land

At Land ★★★★

In the opening images of At Land, her third short film, Maya Deren appears as a woman who washes up on a beach—and spends the rest of the movie trying to get back to nature. The waves themselves reject her (they’re filmed rolling away in reverse), and even when she tries to take solace by caressing and climbing a spindly piece of driftwood, a sudden edit reveals that she’s climbed atop the table of a dinner party. From there, the woman finds that entering one space inexplicably leads to another. A sense of displacement and dislocation dominate (this was also a theme of her masterful debut, Meshes of the Afternoon). Deren’s performance is one of the more defining elements here, especially in the way she tries to meld her body, like an experimental dancer, with natural formations: sand, rock, the driftwood. It’s as if, in rejection of society, she wants to become one with nature, but remains stubbornly trapped in the human experience.

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