(Originally an IP Movies Review)
Like so many of my peers, I used to relate documentaries to the classroom. From elementary school to post-graduate studies, documentaries are used to give visual learners a better understanding of the material presented. It wasn’t until Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine that I realized the “boring documentary” could be so much more. Not only can documentaries be insightful, but they can also frighten, excite, enrage, and most importantly, provoke the viewer to action. Peter Liechti’s The Sound of Insects fails to reach any of these levels. Instead of haunting the viewer with a tale of sacrifice, Insects nearly puts him or her to sleep.
Insects is based off of Shimada Masahiko’s novella “Miira Ni Naro Made” (which translates to English as “Until I Am a Mummy”), which tells the true story of a diary found with a mummified corpse. One hundred days after this unnamed 40-year-old man dies from suicide-by-starvation, a hunter discovers his body with a diary detailing his final days. Insects uses a narrator to reproduce this man’s diary from day one until his death over two months later.
Insects is more like an audiobook than a film. Images are shown on-screen while a narrator recites the dead man’s diary, and this lasts the entire 87-minutes. Though there is musical accompaniment, it is often comical, strange, or annoying more than it is ever effective. The images that director Liechti decides to string together possibly relate to the dead man’s mental state, but had me squirming in my seat, continuously checking the time to see how much I had left to sit through. Though the images might prove evocative to some, they seemed too random – from a family riding together on a bicycle cart in a park, to miscellaneous trees in a forest, and crowds of people walking through a city, to four people walking up a hill in shadow – to add to the story of the man’s diary.
Peter Mettler does a decent job with the narration of the diary, but there is virtually no change in his tempo, timber, or demeanor throughout the entire film. He never tries to embody the man whose diary he is reading, and instead provides a clinical reading of one man’s final thoughts. If more would have been done here, especially since it provides the only “action” throughout the entire movie, Insects may have been more effective.
I cannot recommend The Sound of Insects as anything more than classroom fare. Documentary fans will surely be disappointed as there is little insight given into the mind of this man who decided to commit suicide by starving himself. There is a lot of potential to create an engaging and interesting documentary, but instead of researching the man, or his cause, Liechti decides to merely read the man’s diary, and put odd pictures in front of it. Anyone interested in this man’s diary should seek out an English translation of Masahiko Shimada’s novella instead of paying to watch this movie, which is little more than an audiobook-on-film.