purkka’s review published on Letterboxd:
Did not really come together as a narrative on any level. Felt more like an idea of a story, or re-enactments from a really good documentary.
I can think of a few reasons why. First of all, it was weirdly uncomfortable putting words in Kropotkin's mouth or really psychologizing him at all, maybe due to a strong commitment to historicism. But when the movie happily exposited intricate details about clockmaking and anarchism, how little it explicitly said about its lead character seemed strange; honestly, I did not feel like I learned that much about the background or the results of his visit to Switzerland.
The movie was also way too reliant on parallels – nearly every fun anecdote or detail lost its power by being replicated elsewhere. Didn't feel necessary to show both anarchists and nationalists organizing a lottery when they were already juxtaposed in a lot of ways, including the opening scene directly naming them as opposites!
And while it had a lot to say, or at least a lot of concepts to mash together, all of it felt explained instead of dramatized. You get a sense of how the invention of the telegraph and the photograph shaped society. Maps and clocks and the social order they impose by measuring are discussed. What is lacking is a story that would bind it all together and give a reason to care other than basic historical interest – though, to be fair, all of it is pretty interesting.
When Kropotkin and the love interest character state that they are not "protagonists", is the film positing that cinema (or all of storytelling) is hegemonic by focusing on stories of specific characters? The argument, even if pretty misguided – stories represent the general via abstraction, by focusing on the concrete and viewing it as an example of something larger – seems to explain what went wrong pretty well. From how it's written (with vignettes about different characters that do not come together to give any of them a coherent arc) and shot (with weird, expansive compositions that de-emphasize characters with speaking role to the point that it sometimes takes a while to find them), you get the sense that what you're watching might be an attempt to discover some kind of cinematic anarchism.
I'm gonna say that it failed. The end result is too subdued to stand out as a bold formal experiment, but too weird to work as a conventional narrative. Fun for history nerds, I imagine, but didn't grab me in any way.