I consider Gina Telaroli enough of an acquaintance that I can’t completely write about her film without proper disclosure. Gina is one of NYC’s most dedicated repertory film viewers, so we do end up seeing a number of the same films and chatting before and after.
Gina Telaroli’s Traveling Light strikes me as a work essentially about loss, and one that operates unlike any other film set on a train—its visual language and rhythms are highly unique (certainly falling under the category of “experimental” but never didactically so).1 The film is almost like a collection of postcards, filled with moments of reflection on not only how we view the world, but also how we view each other. It’s also a film that stirs emotions hard to explain. The fact that Telaroli’s initial plan for the film went haywire (described her in my interview with her) and the final work is still something of rapturous transfixion, should speak no doubt to the conviction she has when wielding cinema.
Opening with the passing of two trains that feels less like a moment of everyday banality and more like an excerpt from the “Beyond Jupiter” section of 2001,Traveling Light travels on an Amtrak from New York to Pittsburgh. But it’s not a film pushing forward, but seemingly always looking back and what is disappearing, of space and time falling behind. The world is always passing by in windows, the shadows overtaking the frame, and trees pass by via the reflection in a laptop. Shots from the window at the end of the train are framed in a way to resemble silent film shots, literally sending us back in time. The human moments convey this as well, as Telaroli gives each member of her cast a moment: a conversation outside the train is just barely audible, a reunited couple only spotted for a moment. A woman drinks coffee and then vanishes before our eyes with a flicker. Another writes in a diary – we can’t read the writing but can observe the gestures in the hand. As the snow becomes more dense and the sun drops, the camera continually searches for light, any moment to connect with what once was. During the final shot, as the camera stays stranded in the station, and the light of the train that took us to this destination disappears before our eyes, I felt a strange sadness over my connection, my need, for light, even the artificial one that reminded me the art form I claim so dearly only exists through such means.
But within this sadness, I’m also reminded of how beautiful the images Telaroli finds are inspiring in their beauty to remind me that even if these things are disappearing. Each shot has a soft focus feel that feels gently touching and filled with passion for both the world around them and the people in it. During a moment late in the film, the camera captures ice forming on the windows, and the red light that illuminates it. “That looks awesome!” The camera operator notes, before he and Telaroli, voices just audible, decide to hold the shot. It’s this belief in the image that fuels this gentle gesture to our changing world, and the hope that even in transitions, something of beauty may emerge.
1Although not a direct influence, it has shades of some of the scenes set around Vienna in Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours, though the “theory” behind such images is never stated in Telaroli’s film.