Omer Fast’s War-Weary Films Blur the Thin Line Between Memory and Reality

May 4, 2016 10:31PM

Image courtesy of James Cohan Gallery.

The films of Omer Fast are like cinematic puzzles. Typically made with Hollywood-level production values, Fast’s work at first seems to follow a clear plotline, before a jarring shift—a character switches to a different actor, a scene seems to repeat word for word, etc.—leaves the viewer questioning what exactly she is watching. In his first solo exhibition at James Cohan Gallery in New York, Fast presents three recent video works that showcase his unique distortions of filmic narratives.

These three films take different angles when examining the psychological effects of war. Though the combat referenced in each is generally within the Middle East, Fast trains his lens on the Western lives implicated in such wars. He empathizes with their pains while still critiquing the atrocities they have committed or the racist ideologies that often underpin their wars.

Continuity, 2012
James Cohan

In Continuity (2012), a German husband and wife pick up their son, who has recently returned from serving in Afghanistan. As the film goes on, the plot seems to repeat: The couple drives to the bus station again and again; each time, however, a different man plays their son. The reality is left ambiguous. While one might assume these are actors hired by the couple to fulfill the role of their dead son, each man suffers from very real traumatic hallucinations. As the film continues, reality breaks down even further. At one point, the couple spots a camel strolling down a secluded German street, with a group of dead soldiers lying in a nearby ditch. Trauma is infectious, Fast seems to suggest, as the memories of an unjust war bear down on all citizens, not just veterans.

Spring, 2016
James Cohan

Spring (2016) acts as a sequel of sorts to Continuity, revolving around the same middle-aged couple. The film focuses on two individuals seemingly hired by the couple: a teenage boy who obsessively watches ISIS propaganda, and a male prostitute who suffers from traumatic flashbacks related to sexual assault while he was in the army. The film is presented on five interlocking screens, a technique that allows Fast to more deftly explore his characters’ fragmented psychologies.

5,000 Feet is the Best, 2011
James Cohan

5,000 Feet is the Best (2011) re-enacts interviews Fast had with an anonymous drone operator, who offers justifications for his actions in the form of parable-esque tangents. The pilot, however, seems to be crumbling from unacknowledged guilt.

Together, these gripping portraits show how, even as wars are increasingly fought over long distances via cameras and remote technology, the consequences find their way back home.

—A. Wagner

Omer Fast’s films are on view at James Cohan Gallery, New York, Mar. 25–May 7, 2016.

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