Memoirs of a Plague
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Memoirs of a Plague

Robert Nugent (Australia, International Spectrum)

Wednesday, May 4, 9:45 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 (350 King Street West)
Friday, May 6, 4 p.m.
Cumberland 3 (159 Cumberland Street)

Film owes a lot to the locust. Well, this might be a stretch. But there are some fascinating early 16mm prints of corporate propaganda films on how the locust plague of Genesis was nothing compared to what would happen if you didn’t dust your crops with DDT. This fear is where Robert Nugent’s Memoirs of a Plague begins. Incorporating archival footage from his youth, Nugent travels to the front lines on the war against the locust—a journey which takes him from his native Australia to Egypt, Ethiopia, and Rome. Nugent, however, increasingly finds himself on the side of the locust, and takes the audience along with him.
Memoirs of a Plague is a hybrid, non-linear memoir loosely narrated by a mumbling Nugent, mixed with Planet Earth–like shots of locusts, all tied together by a philosophical reflection on the nature of control. Nugent sets the surreal tone of the documentary from the outset, opening with a nameless person (none of the interviewees is named) getting a locust tattoo as the buzz of the needle and the classic score are overpowered by naturalistic locust sounds. Nugent clearly is exploring our relationship to the locust in the context of the plague that we are continually warned is coming. Yet, it never arrives. Rather, we wait. We wait for the clouds of locust to descend and even when they do Nugent subverts their mass power with incredible microscope shots of individual locusts. Like most things, when taken out of the mob and examined as individuals, it turns out that locust exoskeleton “faces” can become oddly endearing. And if this doesn’t win one over to the locust, watching one’s vivisection will. (Man: the cruelest animal of all).
Memoirs of a Plague is not a typical nature documentary. Die hard fans of Blue Planet and other such primo BBC television might find this anthropomorphic approach bizarre. Though the documentary certainly isn’t for everyone, some might be delighted to discover the locust lover within.