The Self, A Sense of Place, Better Living through Geometry
It is a good and wholesome exercise to measure one’s self in relation to the universe. Not only is it virtuous to keep the universe in mind, if only to maintain perspective on the size of one’s own issues, but to acknowledge one’s inescapable relationship to it.
In her film, Square the Circle, Hanna Hovitie reveals elements of her personality as they reflect or react to mathematical, geometric and physical phenomena — to name a few: the concept of zero; the efficiency and perfection of a sphere; the possibility that the universe is infinite; the concept of time as it relates to space and light. But Square the Circle is a film, thank goodness, a finite, linear, physical thing, artfully crafted, funny and beautiful.
In trying to characterize this film, two things from the misty past come to mind: a novel and a piece of jewelry. The novel is Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, written entirely in the second person. The piece of jewelry was a signet ring, in which was set an Australian Black Opal, arguably the most entrancing gemstone on this imperfectly spherical planet. Like McInerney’s book, Hovitie’s film is built around a syntactic anomaly. McInerney’s now famous choice of the pronoun ‘you’ in the place of ‘I’ is analogous to the circular framing of Hovitie’s film, which is not simply a porthole-shaped matte though which the viewer is looking at a normal horizontal image; it starts out that way but then evolves into a phantasmagoria of circular and spherical imagery that is layered and warped in ways that inspire new respect for the electronic medium, the computer and the 360 camera. As to the Australian Black Opal, if you’ve ever seen one of these stones you will recall their stunning vividness of color. They are not milky as are ordinary Opals but iridescent like a peacock feather only with reds and yellows as well that flash as you move them. To gaze into one of these gems up close is to succumb to the illusion that one is looking into something fathomless, a deep chasm flashing with light that seems to come from within. I reference this specific stone in order to resist re-using the adjectives ‘gem-like’ and ‘crystalline,’ which so aptly describe the best examples of art/film — short, concise, visually intense. By possessing all these qualities and being circular in shape Square the Circle redoubles this temptation. So, from a purely visual perspective, think crystal ball, the iris of a sorcerer’s eye or the gem stone mentioned above.
Square the Circle is not, however, a purely visual piece of art. It begins textually with a quote: “Surely you’ll find your place.” — Mom
Thereafter, via her own on-screen image and a smooth, near musical voice over Hovitie, listed in the credits as “Tittö” (Girl), guides the viewer on a self reflective quest for ‘place,’ not a geographical place but places that may be found in two or three-dimensional space, or four-dimensional space-time — a particularly vexing locale that may exist in time and space — within the limits of the universe, of course, if such limits can be said to exist. At once grand and belittling, a place like this requires some cerebral assembly, which Hovitie accomplishes with grace, humor and geometric symbolism.
She posits the existence, or lack thereof, of zero-dimensional space as represented by zero, the “mark for an empty space,” and further ruminates:
“Zero is a paradox.
Zero equals nothing implies that nothing is something after all.
Zero, I know how you feel.”
At one point we find the Tittö character standing on a tiny planet-like orb. She protrudes actually, like Saint-Exupéry’s petit prince. It is winter. She shares the little planet with some high rise apartment buildings, also protruding. The voice over, in translation, proceeds as follows:
“The circle is a set of points in a plane that are equidistant from a given point. The center of the circle.
It looks like a line, but isn’t.
It’s a set of points side by side,
that form an entity together.
There are so many points
that the points probably don’t
even realize they form a circle.
A man passes by carrying a shopping bag. He asks:
‘What are you doing here?’
‘I’m not sure.’ ”
So it goes.
At present, Square the Circle is making the rounds at various film festivals and may be viewable by accessing those festivals. As of this writing the film is programmed at: FICBUEU Bueu International Film Festival 2023 (Spain) – International Competition; Helsinki International Film Festival Love & Anarchy 2023 (Finland) – Cut to the Chase Competition. G&S