Los Angeles

Jesper Just

Perry Rubenstein Gallery

It Will All End in Tears, 2006, Jesper Just’s splendidly moody threepart film, weaves an oblique melodrama that involves two protagonists—a beautiful, aloof young man and a somber old man who yearns for him. Their episodic encounters are charted against three distinctly different settings—a garden in morning light, where we glimpse moments of arousal and joy; a courtroom in which an interrogation is under way; and an industrial rooftop at night, where danger seems palpable. Given their contradictory behavior, what the characters mean to each other is unclear—the young man entices the older one, then brushes him off; the older man accepts help from the younger man and then, later, runs and hides from him. The characters’ to-and-fro hints at passion tempered by loss. Were they once lovers? Does their interaction represent the struggle to reconcile youth with old age? The narrative is loose enough, and the relation of the characters sufficiently open-ended, that an intriguing ambiguity results.

The story unfolds from the older man’s agonized perspective. Like a modern-day Orpheus struggling to navigate a surreal underworld, he appears lost in a fog of painful memories, chasing after fleeting snatches of euphoria in a feeble attempt to capture the elusive object of his desire. What was once bright and vital is now dull and spent, a painful reality expressed in lush bursts of imagery and music. The portentous singing of the Finnish Screaming Men’s Chorus fans the flames of the protagonist’s anxiety and sharpens the film’s melancholic mood. Collectively, the screaming men are a powerful force to behold as they give voice, literally, to patriarchy—its institutions and codes of conduct.

The troubled senior character at the center of Just’s film is a familiar archetype in the history of Western art. He surfaces initially in Hellenistic art as the aged Hercules, and returns as, among other figures, Georges Rouault’s king, staring into an existential void. Just sets his vulnerable antihero on a collision course with an equally archetypal opposite—an ageless, expressionless Apollo (in Greek mythology, the god of light)—and charges their union with homoerotic tension, thus eroticizing the idea of loss as he builds to a spectacular finale in the form of a glittering fireworks display over New York. The music cues us to the tragedy that’s about to unfold—it’s the death scene. All the players unite on the industrial rooftop. The old man hides in fear, the young man walks into beams of light, and the chorus of screaming men hold hands and shout into the night before they jump over the edge and disappear from sight. The mood turns especially ugly when the music subsides and the noise of the pyrotechnics takes over.

The film’s stunning cinematography presents every memory or encounter, however unsettling, as an exquisite visual experience. Just’s palette shifts from inky navy blues and blacks to the softest, most bleached-out tonalities, like those in faded photographs that retain only faint blushes of color. The aesthetic appeal of It Will All End in Tears is further enhanced by its high production values. Shot on 35mm and presented in high-definition video, the state-of-the-art image quality amplifies the work’s exquisite visual elegance. The enjoyment of watching it overlaps with the general thrust of Just’s project—that pleasure is never far from pain—and we feel it, for real.

Jan Avgikos