Ben Hayoun-Stepanian (founder of the University of the Underground) travels the world to find the origin of knowledge, no easy quest you’ll have to admit.
Hayoun-Stepanian starts with political theorist Hannah Arendt and meets everyone from the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Magid Magid, the co-founder of the Internet Archive, Google, Cambridge University, Tokyo Community School and much, much more.
She also meets former students and people who knew Hannah Arendt which means, if you aren’t familiar with Arendt, then don’t worry, her ideas and perspectives are brought out. This happens mainly thanks to Richard J. Bernstein, a former student of Arendt and now a professor of philosophy.
Arendt had all sorts of ideas and predictions including her belief that, whilst you can quell radical thinking and totalitarianism, human’s will always come back to power, wanting it and being the ones at the top.
Hayoun-Stepanian speaks to these people about what they think of Arendt, what they think of knowledge, where did it start, what is the origin. Speaking to a member of Pussy Riot who received the Hannah Arendt prize for political thinking.
When she meets Neil Harbisson, who’s the guy with an antenna attached to his brain to help him see a wider spectrum of colours, he has an interesting take on what it might mean to be a cyborg. He believes that we, as humans, we can make ourselves more in harmony with the planet; night vision so we don’t have to use lights, regulate our own temperatures so we don’t require heating or air conditioning. It’s an interesting take on things.
Whilst Hayoun-Stepanian’s quest is an interesting one and the people she speaks to each have fascinating insights and the whole thing is deeply interesting, it also feels a little lost and directionless.
Although she states that the origin of knowledge is the quest, it, at times, feels more like a love letter to Arendt and her ideologies and thoughts. That’s not a bad thing but leads to an odd, meandering feeling whilst you’re watching.
This isn’t helped by director Nelly Ben Hayoun (“Disaster Playground”, “The International Space Orchestra”), who interjects bizarre music and imagery, as the whole thing goes down a strange, Japanese puppet theme. It all feels out of place, like a bad DJ trying to mix. The interviews are quiet and fascinating and then this overly loud music punctuates proceedings. Odd.
The last word should go to Arendt who, when talking about desire, said: When you want strawberries, you eat them, when you love strawberries, you plant them.
(This review was written as part of the BFI Film Festival London coverage)