2019 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – ONE MAN DIES A MILLION TIMES
ONE MAN DIES A MILLION TIMES is certainly the closest thing that the 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival has to a classic Soviet film this year. It’s been compared to Tarkovsky, although perhaps DEAD MAN’S LETTERS is a more apt comparison. Either way, it was a much watch on my itinerary.
ONE MAN DIES A MILLION TIMES is based on the journals and memories of scientists and botanists who experienced the siege of Leningrad in World War II while preserving the genetic diversity of one of the world’s foremost seed banks. Protection against disease, famine, and distinction and hope for the world’s future.
The scientists did all this while many of them literally starved to death in the siege. Despite seeds, grains, and potatoes being within arms reach. It’s a story of dedication, suffering, and hope. If ONE MAN DIES A MILLION TIMES pans to a symbol of the cross at a particular point, it feels appropriate and earned. This is the type of film that belongs in a film festival that’s also playing THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC.
As directed by Jessica Oreck, ONE MAN DIES A MILLION TIMES uses visuals first, a bit of voice over, and very little dialogue to tell its story. But, the storytelling is always clear. The film is set a few years in the future, perhaps the better to communicate the universality of the story, and once winter sets in, it’s hard to distinguish eras. It’s impressively bleak.
Perhaps too bleak. There are moments of humanity, love, and hope throughout the film, but not much of anything in the way of humor. There’s a bit of a love story to lighten up the heavy material, but for the most part it’s a very bleak, serious film. There are times where it’s a bit of a hard trudge.
It’s been compared to Tarkovsky, and it is very well shot with long takes, but Tarkovsky digs deeper into character and has more of a sense of humor. The bleakness and heavy handedness, is much more reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic horror of DEAD MAN’S LETTERS. And, perhaps that’s appropriate, as DEAD MAN’S LETTERS acted as a warning sign. ONE MAN DIES A MILLION TIMES wants to be a warning against the dangers of climate change, monocultures, and potential ecological collapse and the men and women who sacrificed to provide hope for the future.
As such, ONE MAN DIES A MILLION TIMES is a success. A bleak one that’s a hard watch at times, but a success. If nothing else, it’s a document of an unreported story of sacrifice for hope for the future. And it’s a film that feels its story is timeless and important and then demonstrates it.
ONE MAN DIES A MILLION TIMES plays once more at the Milwaukee Film Festival on Wednesday, October 30th at 3:45 pm at the Jan Serr Studio Cinema. The 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from October 17, 2019 to October 31, 2019. Information and tickets can be found at Milwaukee Film’s website mkefilm.org.