Paraphilia Magazine – from THE AMBIVALENT BODY: ON THE SHORT FILMS OF MONIKA K. ADLER
By Robert Smart
Come Back to the Trees may be Adler’s most elusive, evocative and effective film to date. Though still relatively minimal in means it features more dynamic cutting, camera movement and a larger cast than any of her other work. To a driving tribal beat a convocation of very nubile women dressed primarily in short white shifts perform an enigmatic and possibly lethal ritual in the solitude of a picturesque Eastern European forest. The camera Pans and tracks, veering and circling, then cutting into close ups of the women’s hands bearing small mounds of brain tissue in white muslin, carried with deliberate gravity, lifted to sensuous faces to be sniffed and tasted. The images frequently loses focus, the blurred perspective suggesting an intensity of experience that threatens to overwhelm the consciousness or possibly the presence of hallucinogenic aids to exaltation warping the unseen witnesses’ organs of perception.
The film begins with shot of a calla lily, a popular funeral flower in the region, on the ground next to what appears to be an outstretched male hand accompanied by the screeches of chimpanzees on the soundtrack, echoes of the primordial and atavistic.
Come Back To The Trees 1After a brief credit sequence where the rhythmic percussive soundtrack is introduced we cut to the bleary image of a blonde woman (Milena Walczak), referred to as The Messenger in the closing credits, moving through the trees before quickly proceeding to close up of her what turns out to be her sacred offering, the handful of brains in white cloth. She advances through the forest in a state of weird transport, her offering shown several times from slightly different angles. There is a split-second glimpse of a troupe of women advancing toward her through the trees. They are identified in the credits as the Chamankas (Shamans) and are hastening to take up their positions for the uncanny ritual to follow. She stops to sniff and sample the offering. She is shown head tilted back, the residue of this appalling substance smeared about her face.
Vertiginous shots of blurred trees and a funereal obelisk alternate with the blonde continuing her rapt indulgence before shifting to the cadre of Chamankas which is headed by a brunette wearing black pants and a simple white brassiere with a mask of black cosmetics around her eyes, This “High Priestess” is identified as the She-Wolf, and is played by Adler herself.
The She Wolf advances in slow motion, rapid Close Ups of her and The Messenger punctuating the approach. The Messenger, eyes masked now in black like the priestess, approaches the She Wolf in a submissive crouch, the handful of brains proffered before her. Receiving the offering the She Wolf lowers her face to smell them as The Messenger had previously.
Come Back To The Trees 2The brains are shared out among the Chamankas who consume their portions with relish before proceeding to entranced and ecstatic movements in time to the pounding of drums. The women, at times arrayed in formations, are with their minimal costumes and alluring appearance, reminiscent of a cross between the better instances of 1970’s erotic Euro-horror (Jean Rollin for example) and one of Vanessa Beecroft’s installation pieces.
The whirling glimpse of the trees once again serves as a transition to the next section preceding a Fade to Black that is followed rapidly by a shot of the discarded calla lily on the ground, the figures of the women barely visible in the distance. In hypnotic slow motion the women, specifically The Messenger, advance, their movement suddenly interrupted by a cut to an interior and to a raised gloved knife-wielding hand plunging down, then quickly cutting again to the bloodied arm of the apparent victim apparently lying prone on the floor and finally cutting back to a shot of the gloved hand gripping a bloodstained knife at her side. From this condensed, oblique flashback one can only infer that this is a how the offering was obtained.
Back in the woods the She Wolf once again sniffs the brains. She then leads the cadre of women back to the flower lying in the foreground. The She Wolf’s action of bending to pick up the flower is shown from several angles, as a howling high-pitched woodwind is erupts on the soundtrack. Accompanied by pagan flutes the Chamankas advance with the flower projected toward the camera fully in focus while the women remain indistinct, a nebulous mass, animated with a mysterious purpose. The She Wolf, in Medium Shot Profile, leads them, the flower held out before her like an erect parody of a phallus. The use of the calla lily, a flower associated with funerals in Poland, suggests the death and burial of one thing and birth of something new.
The final shot is blurred image of the cadre of women slowly walking away from the camera. The title is repeated and the end credits role. Come Back to the Trees is an invitation or exhortation to return to the wilderness and join this cabal of women in taking up again the sacrificial ceremonies of some secret primeval cult practicing their faith in grave and exhilarating opposition to the dominant culture beyond the forest.
The repetition of brains and their consumption by the female cultists appears to take the desperate, vengeful and incorporative despair of Monika in Chernobyl of Love to the level of fully conscious albeit symbolic act. The appropriation of the sacrificial male’s brains along with the flower held aloft like a phallus suggests the absorption of his essence – his power.
One imagines that when a sufficient number of sacrifices have been enacted and when enough power has been absorbed the adherents of this clandestine religion will be ready to assail the civilization beyond the trees. In every area: tone, rhythm, cutting, movement, framing, the ease with which its tantalizing suggestiveness is achieved, Come Back to the Trees is Adler’s most impressive film to date.