Unlike most recent omnibus features (Paris, Je T’Aime, Tokyo!, New York, I Love You), the three short films comprising The Fourth Dimension riff not on a specific location, but on a set of creative rules. As soon as an exchange from Back to the Future jokily pops up on screen to follow a pair of august quotes from Albert Einstein and Sergei Eisenstein, however, it’s clear that no Dogme 95-style stringency is in order. Indeed, the wide-swinging, non-sequitur quality of the 50-plus instructions pulled together by producer Eddy Moretti (a few choice samples: “You must forget everything you know”; “The hero must have a missing tooth”; “Stray dogs are good. They can be really meaningful”) makes far more sense as a send-up of that earlier manifesto’s monastic strictness than as a multinational attempt to cinematically embody the elusive spatial theory of the title.
It’s then peculiarly fitting to have Harmony Korine, once the sole American filmmaker to briefly sign in to Dogme’s “vow of chastity,” kick things off with his segment, The Lotus Community Workshop. Its tenor alternating back and forth between a preacher’s brimstone howl and a pothead’s addled stammer, this bifurcated platform for Val Kilmer’s rich, ripe flakiness finds the actor literally and figuratively letting his belly hang out, and having the time of his life doing it. As a manic motivational speaker who just happens to be named “Val Kilmer,” he materializes under the swirling lights of a roller rink to gin up the working-class crowd with mantras like “velvet killed Elvis” and promises of “a world like cotton candy, almost.” Intercut with views of Val the new-age charlatan are views of Val the happy stoner, out enjoying a languid nocturnal stroll with his cornrowed girlfriend (the perpetually jailbaitish Rachel Korine). Mellower but still very much of a piece with Korine’s earlier grimy-lyrical reveries (with perhaps a tip of the hat to Werner Herzog’s televangelist documentary God’s Angry Man), this section only once finds the illumination it so spastically seeks: Kilmer’s climactic bicycle ride across a stretched-out widescreen, the blissful grin plastered on his face no doubt mirroring that of the mischief-maker behind the camera.
More pokerfaced in its tomfoolery, Aleksei Fedorchenko’s segment, Chronoeye, places its metaphysical apparatus front and center. Time here is explicitly acknowledged as the ineffable fourth dimension, with a sourpussed scientist (Igor Sergeev, from the Russian director’s Silent Souls) as its obsessed seeker. Experimenting with two cameras (one perched atop a tower, another strapped to his forehead), he finds a way to snatch glimpses from past centuries. The problem is, the sights emerging on his monitor are invariably from the wrong perspective: Teleported to the 1930s, the camera’s POV drifts away from the historical figures signing a treaty to focus instead on the moose head mounted on the wall. “How can I see the essential,” cries the peeved scientist, further frustrated by a visit from the tax collector and the comely neighbor (Darya Ekamasova) dancing up a storm upstairs. Aiming for a wry transmutation of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine as well as a ruminative parable for try-fail-try-again filmmaking, Fedorchenko’s short is a promising tale about inquisitive and obscured vision that’s undone by plodding execution—not to mention a cutesy punchline that threatens to collapse the whole melancholic joke that preceded it.
If the middle segment at times suggests an arid, deadpan Futurama episode, the concluding panel, Polish newcomer Jan Kwiecinski’s Fawns, plays largely like a vaguely Euro-nihilistic The Twilight Zone installment. The setting is an evacuated hamlet through which a quartet of twentysomething knuckleheads (Tomasz Tyndyk, Justyna Wasilewska, Pawel Tomaszewski, and Pawel Smagala) mindlessly romps. While sirens wail in the distance and stacked sandbags and overheard newscasts warn of the incoming flood, they ransack through homes and churches, hold impromptu karaoke shows in deserted streets, paw at each other, and basically act like extras in a zombie movie where the zombies forgot to show up. A moral twist tentatively points to redemption before the deluge, or is it just the director’s last-minute attempt to break up the pervasive monotony of his apocalypse? Filled as it is with time-wasting Korine-isms (including, inevitably, a tap-dancing idiot), Kwiecinski’s short is nevertheless often visually evocative, building up to two images that are at once finicky and mysterious. Like the rest of this intriguing but ultimately vaporous triptych, though, the segment is almost too slim to exist in three dimensions, much less discover a fourth one.