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Friday, 19 September 2014

Strangers on a mountain

This is a Festival review of Fiction (Ficcío) (2006)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 September (expanded version to come)

This is a Festival review of Fiction (Ficcío) (2006)

This film by Catalan film director Cesc Gay, Fiction (Ficcío) (2006), screened (at 2.30 p.m. on Saturday 6 September) as part of Camera Catalonia at Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (#CamFF), curated by Ramon Lamarca (for the third year running)

When a collection of that urbane Argentinian writer and librarian Jorge Luis Borges’ stories (and pseudo-essays) was made under the title Ficciones*, that word, although so close to Fictions, had a significance that the English substitute lacks, but which is present in : fictive / fictitious / fictional .

As with Russell Hoban, Borges’ writing career seems to have circled around the nature of reality – what is subjective, what is objective – in miniatures such as ‘The Secret Miracle’ (‘El Milagro Secreto’, published by Sur in 1943) to ‘Borges and I’ (‘Borges y Yo’, first seen in the UK (?) when translated in the collection Dreamtigers, originally The Maker (El Hacedor), which was published in 1960. There are similar hints here that Fiction (Ficcío) (2006) is not quite what it seems:

Is, then, that sequence with the cabin a sly reference to the episode on Mt Olympus in John Fowles’ bestseller The Magus** (in its way, a masterclass in the novel as mirage and deception) ? And what does, amongst other things, the perspective of the video footage that we see several times at the start indicate about [the status of] what we are seeing (and yet, despite ourselves, get drawn into) ?

Do we, by our engagement, act out a fantasy of identification with what we know is fiction that is mimetic of the development what we come to see on the screen ? One has to ask, not just because of Gay’s later film V.O.S. (2009) (as screened at Cambridge Film Festival 2012), with its playful insistence not so much on blurring (as maybe here) as rather contraposing a film with its own making, but also simply because one does not draw attention to fictitiousness without a reason :

We have here both being fecund (here, as in the later film, there is a pregnancy shared by friends), making new relationships, and the creativity at the heart of being fictive (it is not for nothing that Àlex (Eduard Fernandez) makes films and has come to Santi’s house to try to work on a screenplay), yet, at the same time, mortality, getting lost (which, with Dante’s example***, bears more than one interpretation at once), and what Hoban (using a Spoonerism in his title for an essay (collected in The Moment under The Moment****) called Blighter’s Rock.

Words like bitter-sweet were coined for films such as this, where its script (co-written by Cesc Gay with Tomàs Aragay) additionally, calculatedly yet not unkindly, plays with our preconceptions (as Gay continues to do in V.O.S.***** (a video-clip can be seen here), such as where Àlex is when he arrives at Santi’s, and who Santi (Javier Cámara) and he are to each other, since they josh as if they are a gay couple – or who Judith (Carme Pla) is in relation to them both.

Earlier, we have seen Àlex arrive, we have seen a neighbouring property for sale and firewood being tipped off the back of a lorry at his direction, and we have (provisionally) tried to make sense of these elements, and of his reactions to the property and its contents (including Santi’s portrait on canvas (with cactii)).

Then, at first sight of Mònica (Montse Germàn), we – and Àlex – seem to say ho-hum at her being a violinist, a fellow creative, both because we are trying to get a toe-hold in this situation (where, all of them together over dinner, Santi feels able to make off-colour sexual remarks out of the blue) – and Àlex seems so wrapped up in his world, where he turns things down almost as a stock reaction (as protection for his time and work, which seem to be – and so he is unproductive ? – preoccupying his mind, as it does (though much more so, and naggingly) in Greenaway’s The Belly of an Architect (1987)).

Yet for all the knowingness (or because of it ? – after all, the film is Ficcío, which is a feminine Catalan noun, capable of meaning invention or fabrication), what unfolds seems on a plane akin to the fantastic in A Canterbury Tale (1944) or Roman Holiday (1953)…

Or it feels more like a David Lean for our times than a Vendredi soir (2002) (or a precursor to Midnight in Paris (2011)).

Were it not, though, for the very end of the film, whose unfolding, for its latency, is almost as much a miracle as that of [Nuovo] Cinema Paradiso (1988) : in the centre of the film, Judith and Santi seemed almost intent on leaving Àlex and Mònica behind (though we later learn that they have other reasons to have done so) – and with but the vaguest of instructions where to meet – and, as Santi (who has fallen asleep) has given access to his video-footage to Sílvia (Àgata Roca***), we wondered what images he may have caught.

Is this fabrication within the terms of the story itself, a product of time, place and behaviour, or is it simultaneously that the film itself, an invention just as much as the words and music of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds that we hear, effortlessly leaves us with the notion that we have maybe co-created the film with Gay, by our attention and participation ?


* First published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1962. Then issued by Calder in its Jupiter series in 1965 (and later reprinted by Calder & Boyars).

The first part of Fictions is already a volume, under the title The Garden of Forking Paths; the second is headed ‘Artifices’, another resonant word.

** Resented because he did not think it the best of his work, but writers from Hoban (the success of whose Riddley Walker (from 1980) in no way seemed to promote the rest of his novels – not evenFremder (from 1996) ?) to A. A. Milne or Tove Jansson have found (or would have found) that what they thought best is not always what they are (or will be) known / remembered for…

*** Inferno, Canto I, lines 2 to 3 :
[M]i ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

**** Jonathan Cape, London, 1992.

***** Where Àgata Roca, who appears later on, is part of the two interrelated couples, along with Vicenta Ndongo (who played Mar Vidal in Tasting Menu (Menú degustació) (2013), also screened in this year’s Camera Catalonia strand).

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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