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Review: Documentary ‘Gift’ provides a sumptuous if trivial probe of artists and creativity

‘Gift’
A scene from the documentary “Gift.”
(Matson Films)

Artistic aptitude as a blessing bestowed by destiny upon creators and meant for sharing with others without remuneration beyond spiritual fulfillment is the ruling concept in Robin McKenna’s handsomely assembled documentary “Gift.”

Inspired by Lewis Hyde’s 2007 book “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World,” this esoteric nonfiction piece advocates for a utopian and radically humanistic worldview that rejects the shackles capitalism has imposed on art. Equally socialist in its understanding of resource distribution and the right to basic necessities, the film’s notions on wealth are admirable even if trivially probed.

McKenna’s sampler platter of individuals selflessly donating their attributes for the collective enrichment range from the most functionally noble, namely Rome’s Metropoliz inhabited museum housing refugees and displaced people, to the hipster transcendence of Burning Man. Florid narration only obscures its meaning further, as one gathers fragments of its multidirectional messaging.

There’s an imbalance in gravitas between segments contemplating the conscious appropriation of spaces and a Native American man’s preparation for a ritualistic parting with material goods known as potlatch, while others border on frivolity, following a mechanical bee in the desert and an exhibit that concludes with flowers changing hands.

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“Gift” thrives on its sumptuous cinematography by Nicolas Canniccioni and Mark Ellam, and its feel-good ambience that entices us to momentarily disregard the structures of power that deter its congenial pipe dreams from becoming factual. Ideal as follow-up to a meditation session, McKenna’s feature turns less gratifying as the sharp light of reality trickles into its philosophical cracks.

‘Gift’
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Oct. 11, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica


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