By David S. Blanco
The first film of the day was the Argelian Until the Birds Return, a competitor of last Canne’s Un Certain Regard. The fifth film by filmmaker Karim Moussaoui is a cryptic place of stories related to each other, without apparent connection, with open places for excursions and exits on the drama genre. We can see long musical numbers that interrupt drastically the dramatic veil on which the film is based, one in particular, that seems to be taken out of Leos Carax unclassifiable Holy Motors, even if this film is far from similar to the one we’re talking about.
Moussaoui realizes an exercise of social contained cinema, dry, as an x-ray of several layers on his native Algeria. The violence, which is the central axis of his work, is shown in every possible form, from verbal to physical, from the accepted one to the omitted one. The problem with this film is that it seems extremely flat formally. Even if the thematic is pretty much localized in a country like Algeria, the camera movements and planning seem like a standard international version of a lot of current films. There’s not a single threatening frame, neither one that is stimulant or enigmatic. Everything’s raw, dry and hostile, possibly, like the reality that he himself wants to describe.
Curiously, the best film of the day –and probably of the whole festival- was shot forty years ago. The Guijon Film Fest has presented a retrospective on Austrian filmmaker and visual artist Valie EXPORT, and the film saw that day was Unsichtbare Gegner (Invisible Adversaries), in an outstanding projection in 16mm, with change of reels and a heavy projector. Invisible Adversaries has in five minutes of its time more creativity that several totems of cinema have had in their entire career, everything serving a story that many wrote off as a “Feminist sci fi Godardian film”.
Whatever the interpretation of the spectator, one can only surrender to the bravery and lack of barriers when treating subjects as sex, or experimentation of the boy. For EXPORT, it seems that the body isn’t more that the recipient of a voluble soul, lost in an unknown reality, that is yet to be explored.
After EXPORT’s film, came the world premiere of En Attendant les barbares, by Eugene Green. This film, which the director himself qualifies as author cinema, is born out of a workshop with twelve actors that didn’t only perform through the shooting; they had functions as electricians, scripts or auxiliary people in different departments.
With this base, Green articulates a story with the minimal elements of language. All the film works through three static scales, with middle shots as a principal axis of the story, close ups to accentuate emphasis of some expression and general shots to place the action in space. These scales work through a simple system of shot-counter shot with the classical peculiarity of Green’s cinema, of these frontal counter shots directly perpendicular to the camera. The actors speak directly to us.
This minimalism in the mise in scene of Green starts to be too simple after a while, since none of the elements of film language seem to be used. This is done well, but the sound has no role but to accompany the characters’ movements, the music shines from its absence and the editing only joins static shots, not creating relations through them. At the end, this seems to be a work that is midway through theater and cinema.
The Divine Order, the second film of Swiss filmmaker Petra Volpe, takes us to 1971, when women didn’t yet have a right to vote. From this situation, Volpe builds a film whose most repeated argument would be “kind” because of its light mood in the planning, dialogues, situations or use of its music, which I find expendable. The amount of commonplaces seen is these film is alarming, from the image of authoritarian husbands to women under religious dictatorship, all of this bathed in a white varnish, a typical component of the “social justice story”
Lucky, the debut of John Carrol Lynch, takes the figure of Harry Dean Stanton to give us an intimate, humble and touching story. The film dwells in the psyche of an old man who lives in a small town in southern United States, near the Mexican border. Lucky is a man of routines with peculiar habits, but is also a man who is tired of living, of not understanding anything about life, and of seeing how age affects him physically and mentally.
In Lucky, one can’t tell when the reality mixes with fiction and where the script turns into a biopic of the recently deceased Stanton. His particular irrational character usually hides authentic life lessons, which far from attempting to indoctrinate in a manipulative way, achieve a level of reflection about one’s role in the world.Formally, the film is pretty classical, though it serves from some stylistic licenses in a couple of oneiric moments of its lead character, returning quickly to a situation centered on the man, with an incisive play of close ups that Stanton rarely shares with anyone else.
Ramón Salazar is an 8 minute short film as a preamble for his next film. In a pretty abstract, visual way, he shows the frailty of infancy through a surprising icy shot underwater. Technically interesting.
After this short, came the Palme d’Or winner for short film, Qui Yang’s A Gentle Night, an enigmatic film shot in vertical format, which talks about the anguish of a mother who loses her daughter and tries to find her in the dark of the night, where one watches fireworks, fear, and happiness. A piece which left me indifferent.
For the end, the new film by Miguel Ángel Blanca, Quiero lo eterno (I want the eternal) verges on the unclassifiable. This is a somber film, dark in theme and aesthetic, without commonplaces and where the spectator never totally understands what’s happening in a narrative level. It’s an abstract film, starring a group of kids that create their own reality through their rules, desires and aspirations A sort of new Sci-Fi that reminds us of films like Gummo or Kill List, all varnished with a moral distance that makes us witness but not judges. One of the most interesting films in this edition.