Visible Cities | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Visible Cities 

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In Babette Mangolte's new film Visible Cities two women search for a house they can afford in southern California. We do not see the women on the screen; we only hear their voices on the sound track while we view images of the locales and houses they visit. The landscapes are terrifyingly well-ordered: The abrupt angles of rectangular horse corrals are heightened by a straight line of pam trees on a hilltop, disturbingly similar to another shot of a line of trees seen in a nursery. Mangolte's lens turns suburban developments of irregularly angled homes designed for visual variety into strangely symmetrical house clusters. Even the construction sites are perfect: lines of small survey flags stand in a neat row; a truck carrying straight boards moves horizontally across the frame. Mangolte, a native of France who lived in New York for many years,moved to the San Diego area only a few years ago. She brings an outsider's fresh eye to this bizarre near moonscape of houses and roads gobbling up the desert. The women are excluded not only because they can't afford the housing offered, but also because the entire man-made topography seems to deny all that is genuinely alive, emotional, different. When we finally see the women on-screen at the film's end, the contrast between their sensual physical presence and the landscape's rigid geometry becomes visible. (Visible Cities will be shown with a film by Sheri Wills and a video by Jeanne C. Finley. (Chicago Filmmakers, 1229 W. belmont, Friday, September 18, 8:00, 281-8788)

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