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Through a Camera Uniquely, or How "Three Worlds” Dreams From Far Down a Rabbit Hole
Director Amir Motlagh makes a film within a film within a mind's eye.
Amir Motlagh is the director of Three Worlds. He is also the lead actor, playing the role of a director, who may or may not be living inside another film or films that he’s making. What is known for certain is that this is his life: a chaotic concoction of messiness and mistakes, all of his own making. Or the director’s making. He’s the director. I think.
Confused? Don’t be. While Three Worlds is a true non-linear affair, making a straight story difficult to follow, there are feelings and impressions that line up well enough. It takes place in the homes of various Los Angeles denizens, from agents to psychiatrists, with Amir connecting the neighborhood dots by visiting them all. He moves from relationship to relationship, treating almost everyone he knows with impatience and near contempt at times. He’s only ever nice when working on a movie or when being with his escort. And with his girlfriend, he’s somewhere in the middle.
Those are the dangling bits of what this film has as a standard “plot,” which by themselves don’t really add up to anything but bird goes tweet: A jerk treats those around him like jerks and doesn’t learn anything except that he’s a jerk.
But, once again, Three Worlds isn’t a traditional movie or even a traditional non-linear one. Motlagh cuts together documentary interviews with family members and friends together with personal home videos, in a move that comes off as pretty stunning. The subjects talk about acting out televised pro wrestling, making music for movies, and going to the cinema. These non-fiction segments go on for good stretches, meaning to the film just as much as the fictional ones do. Personally, they mean more to me than the story of the jerk filmmaker, though they do make that story better.
There are also moments where Motlagh himself has what appears to be computer code projected onto his face, and eventually is seen as undergoing a medical experiment of sorts. And he’s on a beach at one point. This version of Motlagh, I believe, is stuck between the story of the director and the interviews with his real loved ones, in a dimension or world of its own, one where he observes and sits or walks around in a stasis. He’s made a movie about himself, thinking about making a documentary and living regretfully as his worst possible persona, which is also a movie in itself.
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Films like this are rare and even more rarely are they not pretentious - full of themselves, really. I don’t feel that Three Worlds is full of itself or of “it,” but it is full of life, lived in and confused as can be.
Where Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups walked, Three Worlds sprints. Where Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind spoke, Three Worlds whistles. Motlagh’s docu-narrative-essay that’s both a sort of biopic and a rumination on the concept of memories and reality more closely matches Anthony Hopkins’ directorial effort Slipstream, in that both are admirably out of bounds and almost tragically esoteric. However odd, these films are also totally unique in their approaches to how the storyteller, the story, and the act of storytelling are crafted and balanced. Or unbalanced. They’re playing in a big toybox, and they’re having fun.
Three Worlds is more musically sensible at tearing down walls than it is at building up a sensible story, by which I mean that Motlagh’s movie is more right musically than it is right write-ly. Orson Welles said something similar and said it better. Still, I stand by my phrasing. 3/5