I should start this piece on Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, part of Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, by saying “Just see it” — because it works brilliantly when you go in knowing nothing, and reading what follows will be a far inferior experience to just watching the film.
But if you need more convincing, here we go.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is both a low-budget movie, shot for next to nothing under strict COVID-19 protocols, and one of the most ambitions films I’ve ever seen. It combines the beloved time-travel genre with the increasingly popular single-take-style of storytelling of Birdman and 1917.
But it also has the lightheartedness and wonder of the Back to the Future films without the sometimes excessive gravitas of Birdman, 1917, and the time-twisting Tenet.
It’s exhilarating, light, and fun — but also grounded and moving.
The film is making its North American premiere at Fantasia, but debuted earlier this year at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film, where it earned the White Raven and the Critics Award. The distribution company Indiecan has wisely acquired North American distribution rights, so a wider audience will hopefully be able to see it soon.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes starts simply enough. Low-key cafe owner Kato (Kazunori Tosa) discovers that a two-minute delay between a security monitor in his cafe and the laptop in his room upstairs enables him to speak with himself, two minutes in the future.
Things get far stranger from there, unraveling, dazzlingly, over an efficient 70 minutes.
Because the film is done in one shot — or pulls off the illusion that it is — Tosa has to deliver each side of his conversations with himself, on each screen, through the magic of the two-minute delay. This takes impressive acting by Tosa, tight screenwriting by Makoto Ueda, and elegant direction, cinematography and editing by Junta Yamaguchi.
But as more people enter the story – and use the two screens — my mind went spinning. I found myself totally incapable of imagining how Ueda and Yamaguchi conceived of the film, much less pulled it off. Then the characters discover ways to see further into the future, and the word that kept popping into my head was “genius.”
The entire cast is excellent — Aki Asakura may be the best-known, for her lead voice role in the 2013 Studio Ghibli film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya — and reading the dialogue in English subtitles emphasized the film’s witty repetition. We see scenes played identically, over and over again, but they often take on new meaning with the passage of time — just as memories do.
Yamaguchi shows us during the end credits how some of the film’s magic was created. But it might be easier to just go with “genius.”
At a time when so many films are retreating into simple, socially distanced stories, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes shows that you don’t need money, a huge cast or explosions to create a mind-blowing spectacle.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is one of the films at the Fantasia Film Festival, which runs through Aug. 25.
Main image: Kazunori Tosa in Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes.