Legendary American filmmaker Robert Kramer (Ice, Milestones, Guns) caps his eclectic body of workomuch of which was shot overseasowith Cities of the Plain, which he finished editing shortly before his death in France in November ’99. A ’60s-style militant humanist to the last, Kramer collaborated with residents of the somewhat dreary north of France to recount the melancholy tale of a blind man from an unspecified foreign country looking back over his now-broken life. This sober, emotionally probing film is of a piece with Kramer’s 35-year career, in which his 1975 Milestones stands out as a tour de force of independent filmmaking and social commentary.
A collective spirit infuses Kramer’s film from the opening credits, during which people who contributed are thanked in egalitarian blocks of text. Excellent sound design and crafty use of black leader plunge the viewer into the current reality of Ben, the now-blind central character whose struggles upon arriving in France and later accomplishments are portrayed in flashbacks. Young Ben sends his hard-earned money home until a postal clerk informs him all exchanges between France and his country have been suspended. Having left somewhere (probably Algeria), Ben builds a small business, marries and fathers a child but ends up stranded in the dark with vivid, dreamlike memories populated by eerie images. Cities consistently finds beauty in otherwise banal industrial landscapes, and the digital to film transfer is aces.France, 2000. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 110 min.