Reel Critic: “The Year of the Everlasting Storm”

By Shane Silverman

At this week’s Hirschfield International Film Series screening, audiences were transported back to the brink of the Covid-19 pandemic to relive its uncertainty. An anthology film of seven distinct shorts by seven global directors, “The Year of the Everlasting Storm” chronicles the human condition from all corners of the world in the face of an invisible enemy. The film is more than a recapitulation of events; it’s an intimate expression of emotions shown through masterful cinematography. Each director independently reminds their audience of the universal feelings of tension, yearning, fear, love, powerlessness, hope and the seemingly never-ending boredom of an unrelenting, everlasting storm: the Covid-19 pandemic.

The film opens with Jafar Panahi’s short film, “Life,” set in Tehran, Iran. The film was shot entirely on a cell phone inside an apartment. The audience joins a family and their pet iguana who is basking in the sun pouring through the window, enjoying the serenity of isolation and the distant song of sirens with his human companions. The peace does not last long, however, as a knock on the door presents a figure wearing a hazmat suit. Much to the shock of the family and the audience alike, the mask is lowered to present the warm, welcoming smile of an elderly woman: Mom! As the short continues, undertones of tension permeate scenes of pandemic normalcy, detailing the struggles of intergenerational differences and connecting safely with loved ones. Despite the constant, ever-present anxiety of early quarantine, Panahi manages to extend the warmth of love through the screen and provide audiences with an acute, yet powerful, sentiment of hope.

A collection of films depicting only positive outcomes would be untrue to the experience of the pandemic. Transitioning to Wuhan, China, director Anthony Chen shows a young family growing apart in his short, “The Break Away.”  Viewers join a burnt-out mother, immature father and rowdy toddler stuck in a cramped apartment. With each scene, the bonds that hold the family are eroded by financial difficulty, misunderstanding and temper tantrums. The short closes with the couple chain-smoking cigarettes on the balcony. As the husband reaches for his wife’s hand, a final and failed attempt at affection, the characters and audience realize that the home is just as lonely as the empty city below.

“The Year of the Everlasting Storm also captures the tension between citizens and their governments. Two short documentaries, “Little Measures” directed by Malik Vitthal, and “Terror Contagion” directed by Laura Poitras, depict the changing relationship between those in power and the ones they govern. 

Vitthal enchants audiences with a story following California father Bobby Jones, who stops at nothing to regain custody of his three children, separated from him in different foster homes. An engaging monologue overlaid with fluid animations and intimate video calls, “Little Measures” shows a father overcoming the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of the legal system, urban violence and Covid-19 to be with his beloved children. 

Poitras sheds light on the virtual and physical violence associated with international spyware companies. Accounts from all corners of the globe are compiled and analyzed by investigative reporters, connecting the dots between an Israeli tech firm, oppressive governments and global violence, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. As the audience is presented with the terrifying capabilities and applications of spyware, images of local law enforcement militarizing in New York City set up a bone-chilling comparison between violent governments abroad and defenders of liberty at home.

The final short, “Night Colonies,” directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is set in an empty bed illuminated with insect-attracting lights. For the entirety of the short, bugs buzz, crawl and fly among the bulbs and sheets to the pitter-patter of rain on the roof. The short is monotonous and devoid of plot, yet the interactions among insects are strangely alluring. The full exposure to restless bugs prompts the audience to contemplate their own lives, finding comparisons with the insignificance of the insects’ actions during pandemic lockdown.

While no two pandemic experiences were the same, humans globally put their lives on hold to isolate, enduring alone, together. As the lights raised at the end of the film, audiences were left to reflect on the emotional weight of the past year and a half and to wonder what comes after the year of the everlasting storm.