Among the films to emerge in recent years to exhibit the influence of Jacques Rivette, Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan’s For the Plasma wears its reverence for the French director most transparently. It gives us a coastal Maine setting vibrating with an air of the unreal; two female protagonists who, while tasked initially with one project, gradually become embroiled in other clandestine pursuits signifying some slippery conspiracy; a chain of scenarios involving mapping, tracing, and analyzing; and well-dressed businessmen with apparent connections to a larger, just-out-of-reach intrigue. The film’s two leads resemble Rivette muses of yesteryear, with frizzy-haired, monotone Rosalie Lowe evoking Bulle Ogier and the boyish Anabelle LeMieux inviting comparisons to Juliet Berto circa Out 1. Eventually, one even goes boating.
Of course, Rivette’s virtues as an artist lie in the ineffable, so any wholesale mimicry of his style is bound to leave a film worse for wear. And in the case of the awkward and muddled For the Plasma, all these surface-level pillages amount to little more than a feeble attempt to import another filmmaker’s unique aura. At the risk of making a highly convoluted setup sound digestible, Lowe and LeMieux play old college acquaintances, Helen and Charlie, reunited under the employ of the state to keep watch for forest fires from the outpost of a remote cabin. Before this scenario is allowed any time to acquire lifelike texture, however, the script inelegantly dials in the surreal via a lengthy monologue by Helen wherein she describes the details of “another project” she’s stumbled upon involving some cryptic link between close analysis of surveillance footage of the forest and global financial patterns.
This scene-setting exchange between Helen and Charlie features such tortuously overwritten dialogue as “the falsity of the terms doesn’t imply that of the relation,” and in general the film relies on a kind of stylized language that even an oft-Rivettian controller of tone like David Cronenberg would have trouble selling. And indeed, For the Plasma’s central crutch, and the setback that really derails this initial exposition dump, is its technical amateurism, which encompasses both a performance style that plays like the first recitations of a rough-draft screenplay, an approach to blocking that favors stilted and unnatural bodily positioning, and a 16mm format that feels ill-chosen given the film’s many nocturnal sequences.
To give just a cursory sense of For the Plasma’s perplexing feel for human interaction, there’s a non sequitur that has Helen asking Charlie to blow on her dry eyes to moisturize them, a scene where Helen unceremoniously announces the presence of ghosts and the hitherto composed Charlie immediately loses her shit, and an awkwardly staged bit where the two discuss their research while shovel-passing a football back and forth.
It’s more than evident from Keiichi Suzuki’s loopy, meandering electronic score that Bryant and Molzan want to invite a pleasant sense of “WTF,” that they’re not shooting for dramatic plausibility, but rather for a no-rules landscape where detours and irrationalities are welcome. But the film, whose disparate narrative threads unsurprisingly never connect, drowns in weirdness for its own sake, and it doesn’t boast a command of atmosphere or technique to compensate for this fundamental absence of logic. “So many worlds will we have at our disposal, more different from each other than those that circle in the void” could crudely function as a summary of the deeper resonances arrived at in Rivette’s films, and it’s a mark of For the Plasma’s fraudulence that it actually comes right out and declaims this sentiment through dialogue.