Visual artist Omer Fast expanded on his 2012 video loop Continuity to create a mesmerizing, elliptical, jenga puzzle of a feature film about a traumatized family, about life after a war, and about anything else the viewer brings to the fractured narrative. “I’m always more interested in the symptoms than the causes.”

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Fast was born in Israel, grew up in the United States and now lives and works in Berlin. While his previous work has mostly been shown in museum or exhibition settings, he has been moving towards cinema these last few years, making his feature film debut with Continuity. His next feature film Remainder is being released in the Netherlands next month.

Continuity started life as a 40-minute piece made in 2012 for the Documenta exhibition in Kassel. But after it was shown there, and screened at exhibitions and film festivals all over the world, the characters stayed with Fast. “It was as if a relationship had ended prematurely”, the director explains. “I liked the parents so much, and the perverted space around them, that I wanted to delve back into it.”

The short version of Continuity consisted of three repetitive tableaux, in which two parents drive to a train station again and again to pick up their son Daniel – a soldier returning home, and a different boy each time – and then go through the same routine at home. “It was presented in a way that reflected the conceptual idea behind the piece, the notion of a trauma which is not resolvable for the characters. They keep re-enacting scenes from their life because there is a big problem in this family, although what is wrong exactly is never specified. The exhibition version shows the work in a loop, so that there literally is an unresolvability to the story, without a beginning and an end.”

That structure went out the window once the short Continuity was screened at film festivals. “In cinema, the logic of how films are consumed is very different: people sit down, they watch something from beginning to end, and then they leave the cinema. Which doesn’t mean you can’t tell an elliptical story, but it requires a different mode, different techniques to do that.”

The film’s unresolvability kept haunting Fast as it was exhibited and screened around the world. “People kept asking me what it all meant. What are these parents doing? Are they picking up ghosts? Is it three brothers? I got some pretty weird explanations! People try to normalize things, and in doing so they paper over obvious perversions and problems and inconsistencies. I’m much more interested in those perversions.”

That’s why the longer version of Continuity doesn’t answer any of those questions – if anything, it complicates matters even further. “There are even more different Daniels in the film, and they all have different relationships to the parents. There was a short scene in the last part of the old version in which Daniel talks about the drug scene in his home town. That kept fascinating me, so it became the origin of the drugs story in the newer part. It gave rise to this other, new version of Daniel.”

It’s obvious that Fast is not going to just hand over the explanation to Continuity – which begs the question whether there is one at all. “There’s certainly no single key that will unlock this narrative and put every piece of the puzzle in its place”, the director says. “But I do have a sort of master narrative in my head – I just don’t like to share it! At the time of filming, the actors always knew what it was they were performing, although that changed somewhat between the two shoots. The actors need to know, I think. They had an easy job, the audience has it much harder!”