In a mountainous village in a Philippine province, among thick blades of grass, lies a shed. One night it appears, already moss-ridden, closed off by boarded shutters. The villagers think it cursed, and guard it day and night. Sometimes the ledge of the shed shakes, hard enough to knock off glasses of water; one villager hears vibrations coming from within, but not much more. This is the first riddle of Alex Piperno’s Window Boy Would Also Like To Have A Submarine, whose prolix title mirrors the drawn-out vagueness of the film, which hides its logic behind a veil. Like Weerasethakul (the similarity in style, tenor, and verbosity of title too strong to ignore), the film’s tight synthesis of utter, lacklustre realism and dream logic lulls one into belief in the unreal.
Elsewhere, a worker on a luxury cruise misses his shifts, disappearing for spells of time. He sneaks down into the belly of the hull, through a hidden white door, and into a lone woman’s apartment in Montevideo. A curious spectre, he takes a shower in the foreign bathroom, before slipping back to his job, where he sprays down the sheer wall of a giant ship separated from land by miles of cold black water. The incongruity of this situation does not seem to play in his mind.
The utter stoicism of Window Boy, forced by the heavy stillness of each frame, the sparseness of sound, and the paucity of dialogue, is slow cinema at its most alluring – and most dry. Halfway through the film, I slipped restlessly into a grey doze, relying only on the noises of the film to tug me to reality. Atmospheric hums are broken only infrequently by dialogue in Spanish and Filipino, a softly sung elliptical lyric under an outside current of thunder and rain, the plodder of footsteps across ghostly scenes.
But tortuous the experience may be, there are two nice little connectors. First: the connector between the cruise worker and the single woman in the apartment, who, lost in their own lonesome ennui, visit each other’s realms, drifting, observing, the way a ghost may through a world it no longer remembers. The effect of their journeys conjures a funny, paradoxical surrealism – the way they seem so at odds in worlds that they also so seem to belong to (in fact, the woman is mistaken for a passenger of the cruise).
Second: the connector between film and the real world. A day after watching the film, I walked along the streets of the city, which were dark and slick with rain. Thinking of the film, the cruise, the shed, the woman and her apartment, and of the illusory proximity of things, everything in the world felt at once very close and reachable. I felt as if I were to turn a corner and find myself in my childhood bedroom, with the sun rushing in, or in the sky, or on an ice cap in the North Pole. But it might be impossible to accurately articulate this feeling that is so unique to the film more than to state its simple concept: the concept of things being nearer than they seem, of being connected when that seems impossible in the physical world. The feeling that when the gravity of a ledge of a shed mountainous village in a Philippine province shakes, it shakes with the force of the crest of a wave in a faraway ocean.
Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine screens as part of Static Vision’s Dreamscapes festival.
Valerie Ng is a sort of writer based in mostly Melbourne, studying something completely unrelated to film. She’s also a managing editor for Rough Cut and her words appear very sporadically on other sites and on @valerieing.