The Art of Dreaming

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The Art of Dreaming is effortless to watch as it entertainingly rambles through the events and dreams taking place in the life of Maya Rivers (Kate Villanova) during the aftermath of her mother’s death. As the title (taken from the book by Carlos Castaneda) suggests, Maya attempts lucid dreaming, as she tries to confront the literal demons haunting her sleep. Most dream sequences are not highly stylised, so at times it is difficult to know which world is real and which isn’t, but there are obvious markers such as the cheap latex facemask the demon (Walker Hare) wears and the odd bit of mysterious shadowy lighting. And at times this cheapness of props and special effects – in particular a scene where Maya is floating – make this mini-feature feel like a late 1990’s direct-to-video horror release. This shouldn’t detract from the appeal of this film however, in fact it’s the very reason I enjoyed watching it. Director Bob DeNatale is aware of his budgetary restrictions and does not get over ambitious.

Instead of relying on fancy special effects, DeNatale seems to be drawing on skills he has learnt in other areas of his artwork. In particular there appears similarity between the movement of the actors in the dream sequences and the movement he displays in his own unique Butoh dance works. There is fluidity in the actors’ performances and the cutting of scenes allows the dream sequences to meld with reality in the very way the character Maya is trying to achieve through lucid dreaming.

The main strength of this piece is the subtlety of performances, especially from Kate Villanova. DeNatale has drawn from his own experiences of his mother’s death to direct Villanova in a performance full of self-aware vulnerability. The character’s quest to gain control is underwritten with a knowledge that much is out of her control. She tells us in her own words, “I’m going to save the world” before scampering down a path of navel-gazing self-discovery that will later give her strength. Villanova makes sure she does not become the victim, while still succumbing to the temptations of the dream world and desire to escape reality. It is highly relatable to anyone who has experienced periods of escapism that become all-consuming before preparing us again for reality.

Take the time to experience this film. It is not just for watching. Let it be as though you are in the dreams with Maya. Only then will the film make sense and remind us of all the madness we experience in our own rapid eye movement sleep. It’s a solid film that acutely captures the restlessness of thought we experience when plagued by grief or crisis.

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