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Euphoria, RISING: film installation review

More film than art installation, Euphoria is a very different experience depending on whether one stays for the duration or walks out after 10 minutes.

It has to be made clear upfront that Euphoria is not a durational experience. While the context and themes of the two-hour film may be immediately clear in a 10-minute visit, the punch of the experience requires beginning-to-end commitment.

Euphoria is created by Berlin-based artist and filmmaker Julian Rosefeldt, and unveiled earlier this year as RISING festival’s first international commission.

While the screening takes place inside the Melbourne Town Hall, the narratives and landscapes are grounded in New York City. Arguably with the floor-to-ceiling black curtains, 360-degree surrounding screens and dimmed lighting, Euphoria does nothing to engage with its site.

The vast majority of the film is filled with lengthy monologues, theatrical speeches and passionate debates that, at times, disrupt the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience.

We hear from taxi drivers, homeless men, women who work in monotonous jobs for the US postal service and youngsters who live on the fringes. They talk about how our society is built on greed and leading its own path towards destruction – topics that we have heard before but perhaps not from these kinds of people.

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It is then strangely ironic that the characters are played by stars and celebrities, including Giancarlo Esposito and Virginia Newcombe.

A second-time collaboration between Rosefeldt and Cate Blanchett (after 2015’s Manifesto) sees the Academy Award-winning actor as a tiger languidly strolling deserted supermarket aisles. With voice full of spite, the tiger muses on mankind as ‘the only species that can end the world they are born into’.

The film loop ends with the tiger singing the words ‘we are civilised, we laugh with joy’, joined by the phenomenal voices of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.

‘Euphoria’ at RISING, 2 June 2023. Photo: ArtsHub.

The Brooklyn Youth Chorus and five jazz drummers provide live accompaniment throughout Euphoria’s duration. Projected in life-size on the surrounding screens, eye-to-eye with the audience, the young choir members are a constant presence – when they’re not singing, they stand and stare.

This may serve as a constant reminder of how our decisions impact future generations but, judging by how the youngsters fidget and shift to stand on their feet, it feels uncomfortable and unnecessary.

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To some degree, Euphoria candy-wraps difficult and provocative topics in indulgent entertainment. Blanchett’s tiger and the musical sequence where white-collar bank staff perform acrobatics and engage in all manners of absurdity, are two segments designed to grab attention and entice audiences – as exemplified by how heavily these two scenes are featured in marketing material when they make up less than a quarter of the film.

The dialogues and conversations are undoubtedly rich, but this straightforwardness too often positions audiences at the passive, receiving end. Think of that friend who has gone on their rant for just a little too long and you (not without some guilt) have zoned out for half of it.

The setting of the US Postal Service distribution centre brings to mind Beijing-based artist Cao Fei’s early video work, Whose Utopia? (2006) as a point of comparison in how ideas around labour and individuality can be communicated without lengthy dialogue.

Euphoria is worth seeing for the top-notch cinematics and the outstanding voices of the youth choir, but the film needs to hone its balance between presenting a performance lecture and provoking that goosebump-inducing reaction.

Euphoria is co-commissioned by RISING and presented from 2-18 June at Melbourne Town Hall. Pay-as-you-wish pricing; bookings required. This article was originally published on ArtsHub.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne.