A call-and-response piece lobbed back and forth over an ocean, New Diary Movie is distracted by representation. Andre Puca yanks again and again at the elasticity of the image—grunting and shaking, prodding and provoking. Khawaja fiddles incessantly with the arrangement of a Skype window...And so there’s more surface beauty in the latter’s entries than we’ve come to expect, a nascent fussiness sprung from immobility. It’s a well-kept frame, this familiar mirror, and he spends a lot of time smoothing, grooming, steadying. Watch him part his hair carefully. It’s a strangely corroborative approach to the subject of blemishes. All effects, no cause. The composition of emptiness...
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Perceptive Puca, ever the Namer, has been calling his friend “Kwak,” a nickname that like all nicknames casts the shadow of derision. Be generous: he doesn’t have the comfort of spectatorship, but the obligation of intimacy. From this perspective, Khawaja’s formal indecision, his borderline-clinical identification with the image, has merged implacably with his well-being.
Otherwise preoccupied by appearances, he has settled at last on the costume of depression—sandals and jogging pants; bearded and shirtless. He spends whole days reading old Archie comics, swimming, walking his cat on a leash. (Are all these cats a nod to Marker, to the internet, to both, or to neither? The tension between these two points of reference reveals so much about how we can know and not know these films.)
Hell-bent on pushing forward, he can only go inward. If analysis is the process of taking something apart to know it better, we’re looking at a bad case of premature forensics. Khawaja’s the Brundlefly of personal cinema, absent any comfort in metaphor, without even the high drama of metamorphosis. See, the really desperate thing is that Puca is not just concerned. He’s bored.
I mentioned before his able parody, and here he lampoons for love. On a visit home, he’s not only humoring an old buddy when idly shooting some spitballed genre exercise. (The sequence echos exasperated footage from Photographic Memory, where McElwee films his wayward son’s feeble attempts at capturing some glamorous teenaged malaise.) Showing is a medicine. Here is a means of representation, for example, and although it is ridiculous, it’s at least another direction—an active contrast, an antidote to passivity.
Because Khawaja’s cinema has become passive to the point of intransigence: a document of the quotidian, a desert from every angle, a blank wall. Punctuate that with an adjustment, maybe a little nap, and then yet another adjustment. A haircut is perhaps the most dramatic event recorded. He kills time, posts a couple resonant YouTube videos. That scene from Lenny about the “dirty lies” of media. Rueben Dangoor’s Diplo video for “Butter’s Theme,” a neo-Busby Berkeley pattern of looping images, baroque and obsessive, manifesting a distant kinship to Khawaja’s mental state in form if not content.
Conversation becomes intervention, a climax of sorts midway through, if such a thing can happen via Skype. Two friends suffer creative differences. Their own relationship has matured, shrugged off the macho bullshit, the vulgar and alienating Rogenism that passes for warmth amongst young men. From there the lines stop intersecting but remain stubbornly parallel. No more back and forth, only terminal response.
Puca’s constructive antagonism plays out against the dark backdrop of a dozing, ambiguous convalescence: his mother’s recovery from some injury or illness. We see him get antsy in the presence of death. All his loudness and largeness, his seemingly affected lifeness, is cast into relief.
Meanwhile, Khawaja achieves a kind of nirvana, in spite of himself. Right after the manic and id-giddy “Butter’s Theme,” he queues up a static shot of his mother singing karaoke, and though she is always photographed with affection, she sprouts like a flower in this everyday. He goes about his business in the background, at last free from the duty of subject.
This path leads to the most beautiful, meditative sequence in all of his films. It’s just some pictures of a cat.