If something could transcend space and time, what would that something be? How would it do it, but, most importantly, what would it achieve? Many productions over the years have tried to come up with what ended up being a wide variety of takes on the topic, some more successful than others. Cloud Atlas did stand out more recently, but its framework is somewhat more anchored in more tangible and linearly explicable concepts, such as reincarnation. What Aimiende Negbenebor Sela does with her project, 'Utopia', is perhaps more in line with Lynchian themes and their own sort of idiosyncratic, delicious ambiguity.
The film starts off with Angel, a beautiful blonde-haired young woman, who wakes up in her well-lit apartment in Los Angeles, US. In the scenes that follow, we get to discover the mutual feeling of deep love between her and Lillian, her partner. However, it’s not all perfect there up in their penthouse overlooking an enchanting vista, as Angel prepares for a departure that troubles her lover. After an interlude that thematically connects the two halves of the film ensues, and the action subsequently jumps to Uganda, where a young girl wakes up in a hospital bed, recovering from severe burns on her body.
The dreamlike connection between the two halves of the story is what makes 'Utopia' such a unique and wonderful achievement. Even more admirable is how it resists the urge to spell out exact details for the audience, and thus offering an experience that can be tailored depending on personal interpretation, imagination and propensity to stay grounded in a sort of magical realism or instead resort to more abstract themes of transcendence and dream mechanisms. Whether one Angel dreams the other’s life and context, or they both coexist, related or not, within the same universe is up for each and every one audience member to judge and conclude.
Beyond the otherwise simple story premises and the subjective manner in which they interact, there are a number of concrete aspects about 'Utopia'. While in rough terms it is an LGBT film, it also deals with other social aspects, such as racism and injustice, which it portrays in a contextually specific yet universally applicable context. It wouldn’t be wrong to conclude that it somewhat represents an overarching metaphor, a conglomeration of subtle meanings stemming from a personal frame of mind.
Besides its remarkable conceptualization from a plot, character and context perspective, 'Utopia' also hits home in the technical and artistic departments. The film is a joy to look at, Aimiende Negbenebor Sela’s direction is impeccable – establishing an overarching visual style for the entire project while allowing leeway for contrasts to emerge between the two different halves. This short film deeply impressed us, making us jot down ideas, link concepts and speculate on their signification – all of which are the marks of a great movie!