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John Akomfrah's "The Nine Muses"

One man's "picture of intuitive, free-associational power" is a film that "adds up to very little" for another.

"The Nine Muses is the kind of nonfiction film I actively hope for," writes Chuck Bowen in Slant: "a picture of intuitive, free-associational power that cuts far deeper emotionally than a dry recitation of dates and facts could ever hope to. Filmmaker John Akomfrah's conceit is unusually ambitious and, yes, even a little baffling, as he's structured his subject — the racism, dislocation, and isolation that arose from the primarily African and Irish emigration to Britain in the late 1940s through the 1960s — as a parallel to Homer's The Odyssey, which also, of course, concerns a long journey rife with considerable loss and ambiguity."

"The title Nine Muses derives from its overarching structural conceit, a series of chapter headings dedicated to each of the ancient Greek muses," explains Paul Brunick in the New York Times. "Excerpts lifted from landmarks of Western literature, running from the epic tradition of Homer and Milton to the high-modernist experiments of James Joyce and TS Eliot, are read in voice-over. Mr Akomfrah's film checks off many artistic boxes, from the nonnarrative formalism of the cinematic avant-garde through the literary tradition of English heritage films to the political engagement of postcolonial critique. Though it has something for everyone, it all adds up to very little."

For Nick Pinkerton, writing in the Voice, the overall "result is not without beauty, though at a certain point, one begins to notice that each new muse rather resembles the previous, a uniformity that restrains the film from true symphonic swell."

At MoMA through Wednesday.

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