Mystery DVD Club No.15: Co/Ma

Mike Figgis' documentary about making a film in six days is the latest on the Mystery DVD Club conveyor belt...


I was intrigued by the idea of reviewing a mystery DVD. It was either going to be a lucky dip or something akin to a video version of Russian roulette. Would I find a hidden gem or would it be the biggest mess of a film I’ve ever witnessed? Unlike the usual Den Of Geek review list where one can, to some extent, pick a title that in some way appeals, here I will be reviewing without any pre-conceptions.

Co/Ma is a highly unusual film. In 2004 at the newly completed Viba studio in the Slovenian capital city of Ljubljana, the film director Mike Figgis put together a workshop of actors, writers and directors and set them a challenge: make a feature film in just six days…

Using a DV camera, set in what looks like a car steering wheel, Mike Figgis films a discussion of what the workshop hopes to achieve. They debate ownership (whose film will this be?) and end up arguing. One girl leaves the room offended by the ‘negative energy’ which she sees as destroying the collective, prompting another to remark “…it’s turning into Big Brother“.

Eventually settling on a theme, the collective create a soap opera set in a clinic. Meanwhile, the studio seems to be haunted and there are tearful phone calls home as the strain of the six-day schedule begins to kick in. The group discuss pornography and the soap begins to take a very sensual turn. After three days a new member joins the collective but, unable to distinguish when people are being genuine and when they are acting, she doesn’t fit in and leaves soon afterwards. Eventually the group combine their skills and create a short film, though not all of them are pleased with their efforts.

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This is a rather self-indulgent mockumentary on the part of Mike Figgis. Clearly he’s out to prick the thespians pomposity by making them question their skills in a film which is a documentary of its own making. There is a confusion between naturalism and realism inherent in the project. Discussions from day one are repeated for the camera on day two to explore the idea of acting and naturalism but arguably because the collective are good at what they do, the opening scenes have a faux realistic quality.

The confessionals (filmed straight to camera in a washed-out monochrome) seem a little hackneyed, as does the use of night-vision cameras to record ‘eerie moments’ – very Blair Witch Project! Fact and fiction merge throughout the film reaching a point where it’s difficult to work out exactly where the dividing line exists, if indeed it does exist. Experimenting with various genres, the group set their sights on very lowbrow material – soap opera. One of the collective bemoans this fact: “…but I hate soap, I never watch it.”

It could be that Figgis is deliberately undermining the group’s undoubted skills by leading them down such a lowbrow path. The soap, which is set in a clinic, is deliberately badly acted – much of this I found strangely reminiscent of the hospital in Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace. There are moments of horror which are genuinely weird and disturbing and a discussion of the acting craft in the context of pornography, but there is far too much soul searching and argument. Consequently, the film feels extremely disjointed.

The workshop scenes are as manufactured as the films which intercut them. The idea of a director being involved in a film’s narrative recalls the way reality and fiction blur in the closing scenes of Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! Malcolm MacDowell’s character, Mick Travis, finds himself auditioning for a part in a film and meets a rather unpleasant director called Lindsay Anderson. Just as Anderson played a version of himself so too Figgis invents a persona.

Extras Mike Figgis attempts to explain himself in a useful director’s commentary but, in truth, this adds very little to the overall package.

The danger of a film that is neither one thing nor another is it will be described as ‘experimental’. In this case the label seems appropriate given the nature of the film’s premise (produce a feature film in six days), however, after more than a decade of reality television which dictates behind the scenes discussion and thought processes are as important as the final result, Co/Ma seems merely run-of-the-mill.

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Despite the quality of the actors, writers and directors involved, the six day turnaround inevitably undermines our expectations of the finished product. As the film progresses the soap opera becomes a welcome distraction whilst the workshop come to terms with their skills. Perhaps a suggestion of the date and time might have injected a bit of urgency into the project. The whole thing lacks pace and outside of the soap opera is frankly rather dull.

I usually like ‘experimental’ films and I wanted to like Co/Ma but, sadly, it feels like a DVD extra which has somehow found itself released as a main feature.


2 stars
2 stars