Ghost Cities

Sergei Eisenstein once described the ideas of Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky as a string of pearls without a string. This ambitious 2002 first feature by Chicagoan Ines Sommer, a cinematographer who can conjure up more arresting images with digital video than most industry professionals can with 35-millimeter, is tenuously centered on a young woman (Terri Reardon) who does temporary cleaning work. She’s deliberately defined by her lack of definition (which is apparently what inspires her to change her name from Therese to Joan halfway through her lonely odyssey), but she provides only a slender thread for Sommer’s essayistic pearls, which document the city in terms of real estate, Native American origins (alluded to in the title), and invisible lower-income working women. The improvised performances are persuasive, and the heroine’s dreams are eerie and suggestive despite their seeming to develop independent of her personality; unfortunately not even the inserted text crawls explaining her background and supplying various statistics can make a satisfying narrative of this multifaceted collage. 85 min. (JR)

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