'Time Passes' ('Tiden Gar'): Film Review

Courtesy of Ane Hjort Guttu
A rich glimpse into the self-questioning and justifications of an aspiring artist.

An art student tries to sell her peers on an unusual new project's merits.

Is it a work of art when a young, privileged white woman from one of Earth's richest nations chooses to sit, 10 hours a day for months on end, alongside one of the many Romani beggars on the streets of her town? That's the pressing question in Time Passes, Ane Hjort Guttu's quietly insightful documentary about a student convinced this project has meaning but uncertain what that meaning is. A window into art-school life for those who haven't experienced it, it's an ideal fit for MoMA's documentary fortnight and similar niche venues, though its clinical approach and featurette running time will keep it from wider distribution.

Damla Kilickiran has been sitting near a Bergen, Norway, train stop from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., every day but Sunday, doing nothing alongside a woman named Bianca. At night, Bianca finds shelter under a bridge; Damla retires to the apartment she shares with other students. She feels sharing this perspective gives her a new sense of Bianca's humanity, makes her less other; she intends somehow for this performance to draw attention to those we try not to see.

But when she attends classroom critiques, fellow students question and are even offended by her assertions. "Your situation is quite different," one says in polite response to Damla's purported solidarity with Bianca; the intended "equality is not real." Speaking in a calm monotone that reflects serious intent, Damla digs in: "I don't want to help them," she says when someone asks what effect her efforts are having on the plight of the homeless.

Couldn't her time be better spent, everyone wonders? That's the point, maybe: Beggars "spend an enormous amount of time on nothing," to an extent that is almost unfathomable to the middle class. The "maybe" is crucial here, as Damla struggles to work out an intellectual framework for an exercise to which she has given so much of herself. She brings in artistic precedent, arguing over the value of labor in a Bruegel painting and the doomed endurance-test sea voyage made by Bas Jan Ader. But the longer she fails to get peers on her side (their teacher can't decide if the project is cynically provocative or beautifully uncynical), the more she gives in to self-doubt.

Guttu observes all this coolly, sympathetic to Damla's efforts but not taking their value for granted. She gives Bianca some time to speak for herself, finding that the older woman doesn't feel at all exploited; in fact, when it's time to leave town for the winter, she invites the girl to join her. But an unlikely friendship doesn't equal artistic merit, and Time Passes insists that each of us lingers long enough on this provocative proposition to question our own snap judgments.

Venue: Documentary Fortnight, the Museum of Modern Art
Production company: Aldeles AS
Director-screenwriter-producer: Ane Hjort Guttu
Executive producer: Elisabeth Kleppe
Director of photography: Cecilie Semec
Editor: Jon Endre Mork
Composer: Knut Olaf Sunde

In Norwegian

Not rated, 46 minutes

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