In 2004 director Mike Figgis led a “master class”, a five day workshop in Ljubljana, Slovenia, for some of Europe’s hot, upcoming talent. Co/Ma is the result of the collaboration, a film made by the members of the course and shown to them, and a few paying members of the public, at the end of the week. Co/Ma stands for Cooperative Marxists/Collaborative Masterclass, a name that seems designed to aggravate as much as the finished product. Which is… a dog’s breakfast, if we’re being brutal. Or a deliberately tricksy film playing with postmodern tropes, if we’re not.
In form it’s a documentary about a mockumentary about the making of a soap, and perhaps the best thing you can say about it is that Figgis has seized hold of the possibilities opened up by digital technology and laptop editing and gone for broke with his form-within-a-form-within-a-form format. Twenty participants, scant direction, barely a script. What do we learn from such a set-up, designed to take everyone involved out of their comfort zone? That actors need strong direction, that a film set can easily degenerate into a battlefield without it, that actors have fragile egos and are given to screaming and shouting when they don’t get their way. We also learn of the importance of narrative – by far the film’s most interesting element is the deliberately third-rate soap that the documentary-about-the-mockumentary is meant to be about, because it’s got a plot. And it’s precisely this soap element that most people involved are the sneeriest about. You have to applaud Figgis for this at least, that he’s showing what a boring, fractious, messy business film-making is. And it has to be acknowledged that Figgis himself, in early footage, makes no great claims for what they’re all about to do – the whole thing about experiments, he says, is that very often they’re abject failures. What someone does point out early on, albeit as an aside, as the various actors struggle to assert themselves but largely flail about, is that what we’re watching looks perilously close to one of those segments in a reality TV show where various housemates are forced to collaborate on some task dreamed up by the production team. In other words, “experimental” does not necessarily mean “new”. So is Co/Ma worth watching? Only if the sight of actors being goaded beyond endurance gets you going.
© Steve Morrissey 2006