Auster insists lightning isn’t divine.

Act of God: Death From the Skies!

With her 2007 SIFF-favorite documentary Manufactured Landscapes, Canadian director Jennifer Baichwal proved she had an eye for the environmental ravages inflicted on the planet. But she also had the benefit of a thesis, or a position, since she was basically following photographer Edward Burtynsky, on whose work that movie was based. In her latest, a series of survivor accounts and philosophical meditations on lightning strikes, she has no position at all. These random episodes—like Paul Auster reading a life-inspired story about lightning—are as random as the bolts themselves. That cinematic form and content should be so related is a cute idea, but it fails utterly as a movie. Baichwal skips from Canada to France to Mexico, never explaining who her subjects are or arguing why their near-death experiences should be linked. It’s just a haphazard travelogue of terror, like 33 Short Films About Glenn Gould Being Struck by Lightning. Where some survivors insist on attributing divine purpose to the volts, Auster sees only cruel chance. But those notions aren’t new, nor are the out-of-body “I flew toward the light” testimonials particularly illuminating. Gunshot and heart-attack survivors say the same; where’s their movie? Baichwal’s fizzled essay makes you yearn for the clarity of the Weather Channel.

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