Directed by: Rickard Bruhn
Written by: #RickardBruhn
‘[This] avant-garde documentary explores the world of an esoteric transcendental mystery-school’ is how indie film Mystery Livfe pitches itself. What unfolds over its hour and ten minutes runtime is nothing short of madness. Boring, incoherent madness. It’s a #documentary that so desperately wishes to be seen as enlightened and deep, that it fundamentally fails to tell any kind of compelling narrative.
It’s difficult to ascertain what the point of this tale is. At face value, it seems similar to the story of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, in Wild Wild Country; a cult of personality teaches new age beliefs to westerners, before being corrupted by the power that the following brings. However, guru Hana Li fails to get that far. Where Rajneesh and his team invaded towns and poisoned country-folk, the enigmatic leader in Mystery Livfe does little more than throw endless shade at her pupils. Despite a moment where she threatens the arson of a naysayer’s house, nothing before or after this point shows us anything informative about her; she’s just there.
The narrative seems to be leading to some sort of spiritual purge, or mass exodus, but it ultimately fizzles into dull nothingness. This unfolds at a dreadfully sluggish pace that makes Mystery Livfe beyond a chore to watch; you actively have to force yourself to stay focused on it.
Regrettably, the camera work is about as innovative as the content. Grainy, fuzzy shots lead to difficulty in understanding what anyone is saying, particularly in scenes where multiple languages are used, and nonsensical gibberish is spouted. Close ups are favoured, only showing the participant’s upper half, creating a disconnect with the audience as body language is completely absent. This disconnect is compounded by poor editing that cuts off sentences, opens scenes without context, and sometimes removes audio altogether. The creative approach of Mystery Livfe is amateurish at best and woefully inadequate at worst.
The structure and pacing are regrettably no better off. Baffling moments occur frequently, whether it be an introductory narration that’s five minutes long but fails to say anything, or a remix of one of the interviewee’s use of the word ‘ecstasy’ dubbed over him hitting the dance floor, played on a loop. It’s clear that Bruhn is trying to match the style of his film with the themes of new age philosophy presented by Hana Li, creating an avant garde piece that is the sum of its parts. However, the experimental elements that use bizarre audio and visual stimuli are some of the most unfocused and amateurish at play. There is one exception, however. In the aforementioned ‘I’ll burn down your house’ scene, the use of dark lighting intercut with Hana Li’s dialogue, and an image of a disturbing looking Indian idol is genuinely unnerving. It’s a shame that the film sacrifices further moments of inspiration for needlessly long spiritual rants and random imagery.
Despite poor editing, camera work, and a dreadfully slow pace, Mystery Livfe isn’t completely devoid of merit. The sound design is surprisingly intuitive, using a variety of pleasant melodies that utilise close harmonies to craft a spiritual tone that is both soothing and foreboding. Combined with the still image of the night sky, an ethereal picture is created; one that blends the audio and visual perfectly to create a beautiful opening to each chapter and craft the beginnings of a peaceful tone.
Less successful are the hand drawn segments which prominently feature a mysteriously overlain human eye. The disturbing blue eyes act as motif, piercing the minds of the audience from the moment the film begins. Perhaps the eyes are meant to represent the controlling, other worldly glare of Hana Li, or the worrysome paranoia of her less devout followers; it isn’t even slightly clear. The only true achievement of the eyes is that they’re startlingly unsettling, and rather than propelling any kind of theme, or driving the narrative, they merely further distract the viewer from the dull content.
Overall, Mystery Livfe is sloppy, uninteresting, and forgettable. The interviewees have little of interest to say, and even Hana Li herself fails to excite or intrigue. The lives of her students don’t make for a compelling documentary, as they do little besides recount meeting a mystic old woman, whom most of them ended up abandoning because partying on a bus is more of a laugh. The #filmmaking is weak, the experimental creative choices unfathomable, and there isn’t enough content of substance to create a compelling feature film.
Mystery Livfe lives up to its name; it’s a mystery how this film is considered interesting.