Dark, sterile and dystopic at the same time, Greek artist George Drivas’s films depict a retro-futuristic life in an era of mass state surveillance that ends with unexpected results. Using the city and civic architecture as a stage, the films explore the possibilities of experiencing all facets of life, including falling in love, under such a regime. It also seems to use the architecture depicted as commentary on world utopian visions, in some respects.
Beta Test (2005)
In Beta Test (2005) 2 subjects, clinically named ‘Model #1’ and ‘Model #2’, taking part in a controlled experiment of sorts, are sent to different points in a city that’s almost empty, where they wander around and eventually meet each other. Viewers watch from the point of view of the controller, as the subtitles display the metadata, a log of the events and his thoughts about it.
What starts off as an experiment, or some sort of a covert operation, turns into a date, as they meet, have a chat and decide to go out together.
The civic architecture is at once a backdrop, a stageset and also represents the cartesian regime that they are living under, where there are rules governing what they should do and when.
It seems that human friendship or courtship is something unexpected, upsetting and even subversive, as they start missing their required communiques and departing from schedule. The system meanwhile, records and broadcasts their every move.
At the end of the evening they fall in love, and after spending the night together, leave in the morning.
As the time comes for them to depart and go their separate ways, back to where they came from, they both suddenly decide to spend some time contemplating their next move. In the end they both ‘disappear and are never heard from again, forever’ which seems to imply that they eloped and have somehow left the system for good.
The title ‘Beta Test’ means it is the second of an experiment, where the outcome is unknown and where they are the test subjects. Why it is the second is unclear. While the system carefully monitors their every move, they are not physically prevented from being together and ultimately have the freedom to leave the system altogether. This suggests that they are not bound by anything, but are subjected to ‘societal pressure’ to conform to some predetermined ‘norm’.
The test thus seems to be whether they will follow the norm, what they have been conditioned to do, or if they would follow their hearts. As Drivas himself has stated, the story on another level references the city of Berlin itself; how it was divided in two and had to overcome some resistance to reunite as one. The scenes themselves were kept non-descript so as to keep it to what he calls, a ‘non-place’, a universal place devoid of national characteristics making the story a globalized one.
Drivas also describes Beta Test as one where it is expected that some part of the test will fail or not go according to plan. The question is whether this failure, caused by these deviants, is fatal or a rejuvenating source of new life. And that is the experiment.
Closed Circuit (2007)
In Closed Circuit (2007) the chance meeting of two people, Ms. Lee and Mr. Miller, occurs in an art museum. Using the same dry, meta-data in the subtitles technique, one wonders whether this is another ‘test’ on these two subjects. However, as the film progresses, the photography reveals it to be more along the lines of covert surveillance footage, and the commentary is drier, revealing only factual information and leaving out what they ‘ought’ to be doing.
What’s curious is that there is nobody else in this museum, and the walls are largely blank, as the two strike up a conversation and stroll together. What they are looking at is a mystery.
Afterwards, Mr. Miller walks Ms. Lee to the train station where they part ways each to their own home, after having a chat together.
In the end, Mr. Miller had a drink before retiring for the evening, and the next morning he was found dead. Ms. Lee also had gone missing after arriving at her train station, having never made it back home. By now it is clear that the footage is surveillance footage and the film is actually a crime investigation report. But it could also be a love story.
The film depicts a sterile, lonely environment that is socially desolate. Except at the train terminal building, there was no one at the museum nor along any of the corridors at Mr. Miller’s hotel. Even on board Ms. Lee’s train, passengers were sparsely located, sitting individually and not talking to one another. Ironically the metal catch railings to prevent people from falling off into the atrium couldn’t prevent Mr. Miller’s death. It seems to suggest that this dystopian environment has gobbled them up without leaving a trace. It is both functional and dysfunctional at the same time.
Shot in what’s known as the ‘retro-futuristic’ style, Drivas’ films display a conclusion, one that’s rather extreme, of the systems and structures in place that serve and govern us. In this conclusion, all these structures form a system that drains the population of meaningful life, and begs the question why it has to be this way.