This Hypnotic Doc Mixes Sci-Fi with a Story of Heartbreak in the Bolivian Highlands

Back in 1954, Alfred Hitchcock showed us the dramatic possibilities of a camera pointed outside a window in his iconic thriller Rear Window, but he probably never imagined that six decades later a Mexican filmmaker would employ the same technique in a “futuristic documentary” about love, loss, and an apocalyptic meteorite filmed in an unnamed Bolivian city.

Of course, other than the obvious stylistic choices, Rear Window has very little to do with director Tin Dirdamal’s hypnotic hybrid sci-fi documentary Death in Arizona. Driven along by two parallel narratives revealed in voiceover, Death in Arizona is both Dirdamal’s own autobiographical reflection on heartbreak and an unsettling story of a future where, in the wake of a meteorite blast, every book ever written is obsolete and children feed from the sun.

It is by no means your average documentary, but for his third feature Dirdamal is working firmly in an experimental tradition pioneered by French new-wave filmmakers like Chris Marker or Agnés Varda. Dirdamal was inspired to make the film when a passionate love affair ended with his partner abruptly running away. Unable to cope with the experience and contemplating suicide, Dirdamal isolated himself in the Arizona desert.

Death in Arizona finds Dirdamal returning to the apartment he shared with his partner before their separation, coming to terms with his loss as he captures poetic vignettes of Bolivian street life from the windows. As he bounces back and forth through time with his sometimes confusing juxtaposition of narrative, image, and sound, Dirdamal seems to ask us to confront complex questions about the relationship between memory, the present, and an imagined future.

Death in Arizona will play as part of the Proyector film series at Uniondocs in Brooklyn on Friday, July 15 at 7:30 p.m.