'The Space in Between: Marina Abramovic and Brazil': Film Review

Courtesy of SXSW
For contemporary art lovers with a healthy tolerance for New Agey dilettantism.

The famed performance artist seeks spiritual healing in Brazil.

"I can deal with physical pain," says Marina Abramovic, whose famous career in performance art has sometimes tested the limits of her body. "Emotional pain gives me trouble." And so it is that this star of contemporary art takes a tour through the esoteric rituals of Brazil, seeking to rebound from four years of suffering and heartbreak. Neither an art documentary nor a scholarly look at faith-healing treatments, Marco Del Fiol's The Space in Between: Marina Abramovic and Brazil will likely disappoint most viewers who walk in expecting one or the other. Fest auds who approach it with the same fuzzy "open to the universe" attitude as its star, though, may be more appreciative.

"Maria Callas died from a broken heart," Abramovic says early on here, worrying that "I don't want it to happen to me." So after a period in which she experienced "two big loves" and "the second really broke my heart," the artist has organized a road trip to try assorted healing techniques in Brazil — from herb and crystal treatments to visits with famed "psychic surgeon" John of God and, of course, an encounter or two with the hipster-attracting psychedelic drug ayahuasca.

These sequences, shot all over the country, often contain fascinating material. But the film never lingers very long, and Abramovic is largely a passive participant in each new setting. So this road trip manages neither to educate us in the way a journalist's documentary might nor to transform the rituals it observes by reinterpreting them through its subject's eyes. The humility and earnestness Abramovic brings to the quest may endear her to us, but they make her a less interesting guide through this world of spirits than we'd expect. Frankly, she sometimes looks like a dilettante whose money and connections allow her to dabble in a dozen cults without giving herself fully to any of them.

Some, in considering the short history of performance art, might see in its strange self-inflicted trials a new way of transcending the physical world — a collection of experiments meant to replace ancient rituals, which relied on gods and spirits, with new ones that don't require such beliefs, and perhaps even negate them. Abramovic's mission seems to argue against this interpretation. Now and then, Caue Ito's consistently good photography finds the artist sitting alone in a carefully composed tableau, seemingly trying to harness the energy she's encountering into something that can be called art. If any of these efforts matched the transfixing power of her best-known performance pieces, The Space in Between doesn't capture them.

Venue: Biografilm Festival, Bologna
Production company: Casa Redonda
Director-executive producer: Marco Del FIol
Screenwriters: Fabiana Werneck Barcinski, Marco Del Fiol, Marina Abramovic
Producers: Jasmin Pinho, Minom Pinho
Director of photography: Caue Ito
Editors: Marco Korodi, Marco Del Fiol
Composer: O Grivo

Not rated, 88 minutes