Norwegian director Kristoffer Borgli searches for meaning in a world saturated with images and distraction in this thoughtfully playful short documentary. Part visual memoir, part high-end “vlog,” Borgli tracks his way through an existential crisis to a point of acceptance and enlightenment amid an overwhelming media landscape.
Borgli moves to Los Angeles in his quest at a time of crisis both personal and global. Amid the glamour and shiny surfaces, even perfume ads cause him to question life and delve into all the New Age “healing” offered by the city, including a brief encounter with actor Jeff Goldblum.
But hope comes in the shape of a YouTube deep dive, where Borgli encounters a Taiwanese bodybuilder named Frank Yang, whose approach to consciousness seems to spark some interest. Borgli arranges Yang to come to LA and stay with him, and the result are a series of wild left turns, detours and improbably entertaining segues on a journey towards understanding and enlightenment.
“A Place We Call Reality” could be categorized as a documentary, but with the combination of formal eccentricity and heartfelt philosophical questing, it’s a genuinely fascinating cinematic experience that is fluent in the ways moving images are being used to capture and influence an age-old desire to give meaning to life.
The film sets itself up as a kind of vlog, but with its patchwork of storytelling, stark images, well-crafted editing and humor, it’s undeniably much more sophisticated. Intellectually, it’s both outrageous, honest and earnest — and the combination of Yang and Borgli together is undeniably hilarious and amusing.
But while the form and expression are experimental and even loose and playful, Borgli’s existential dilemmas are real and as ancient as religions themselves.
Humanity’s search for meaning has existed as long as people have possessed self-awareness, and while today’s world offers many distractions, ultimately it is a journey most of us can’t avoid. But with genuine wit and intelligence, Borgli’s search is both idiosyncratic and universal — and a genuine pleasure to watch and think over, well after the final frame.