Written by: #MarinaPalei
As a lightbulb warms, its filament turns from a glowing red to a searing white. People can also be incandescent — incandescent with rage. Small irritations pile up on top of each other until one tiny thing breaks the camel’s back. Then anger overwhelms you. Ivan Doan and Rosa Laurini’s Incandescence is an illustrative poetic film, based on the writings of Marina Palei. While Incandescence is not a classic example of a narrative film, this short film is still affecting and casts light on the real problems that millennial migrant workers face, bubbling with the directors’ anger at society and the systems that upheld it.
Our main character, played by Ivan Doan, is a young migrant who has found himself in Berlin. A voiceover reciting parts of Palei’s writings from “The Ring” and “The Flight” is heard while images of a fast-paced, uncaring city and of a man who is just on the verge of completely losing it flicker past. He expected a good life in Berlin, but instead, he sleeps in the body of Berlin’s central train station. He expected success, but instead, he is continually punched down by society.
This film doesn’t just take place in Berlin, it fundamentally understands the city. There’s a lived-in feeling to this work. Like in Christian Petzold’s filmography, Doan lurks in the non-places: the airports, the underground platforms, the main train stations. He doesn’t really belong here, and clearly he doesn’t have his own space. He has become inert after he has been repeatedly punched down. Berlin here is not defined by the TV Tower, or by the wall, or by Brandenburg Gate. The only iconic Berlin structure we see is the towered Oberbaum bridge. Yet graffiti and grime mark the city as unmistakably Berlin. There’s a disconnect between this bustling metropolis and our main character’s deprivation, which the music and editing emphasise fantastically. The shots of mannequins and escalator steps scrawled with graffiti are complemented with a fast, anxiety-inducing tempo beat, reminiscent of Tom Tykwer’s music choice in Run, Lola, Run. The music and the editing both heighten our main character’s sense of entrapment and helplessness. Although dominated by lyrical writing, Incandescence encapsulates Doan’s feelings of abandonment and the aching realisation that he will never win.
In its short run-time, Incandescence lights a match and strikes a chord. In a city full of theoretical possibilities, Doan’s character is left fumbling and desperate. The texts from Marina Palei’s stories “The Ring” and “The Flight” still resonate today, and Doan and Laurini’s work simply thrusts these issues to the centre, in a world more defined by inequality than it was twenty years ago.