Emma Keyes takes a look at Adrian Duncan and Feargal Ward’s Floating Structures, a flâneur-like quest to consider the gravity-defying mysteries of structural engineering.
The screening for Floating Structures, directed by Feargal Ward and Adrian Duncan, opened with the duo’s short film Memory Room, an otherworldly disorienting film plunged deep in a snowy expanse. Sisyphus probably would have recognized his own situation in the actions of the unnamed protagonist who drags a sled through the snow for twenty-two minutes. Since the film has little plot to speak of outside of that, the aesthetics become all the more notable. Visually, the film sets up a monochromatic dichotomy: white and black, light and shadow, night and day. The soundtrack adds a cerebral element that helps the film keep its audience’s attention. Memory Room is a striking avant-garde piece.
Floating Structures follows a man on a quest to find a bridge in Germany. He’s an engineer by training and his view of the world around him is funneled through the skillset and set of experiences; he has the mind of an analyst. The bridge at the centre of the initial quest no longer exists, but that sends the protagonist (a fictional construction) veering off in different directions as he travels around Europe putting his engineer’s brain to use.
The most frustrating aspect of Floating Structures is the monotonous voice of the narrator character. He never modulates his tone, pitch, or speed at all, which makes it hard to focus on what he’s saying. Fundamentally, a meditative personal essay about engineering has trouble sustaining itself for the entirety of a feature-length film. I am not an engineer and maybe if I were I would disagree, but at times I found the film somewhat self-indulgent and too slow. The voiceover certainly played a part in that as did the fact that much of the forage was slightly slowed down so that we weren’t watching in real time. Additionally, the camera movement and the score also moved at just about the same pace for the whole film. Those compounding monotonous elements lulled me into a near stupor and so I did not retain as much information from the film as I might have hoped.
I found the Q&A with Adrian Duncan after the screening to be more interesting than the film itself. His thoughts on he and co-director’s practice were enlightening and helped to flesh out the film. Duncan and Ward “weren’t interested in showing them [buildings] in a beautiful architectural sense” but rather in an analytical sense. They were also interested in blurring the lines between documentary and fiction filmmaking: hence the fictional protagonist in the real world offering up a factual narration of that world. Although the character is not real, “in none of the buildings or history of the buildings was anything sexed up.” The protagonist “never goes beyond a cypher” just like the unnamed protagonist of Memory Room. Ward and Duncan have interesting ideas and I just wish they had managed to convey them more effectively on screen. Still, any architects or structural engineers should at least get a kick out of Floating Structures even if I didn’t.