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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

You say that, because you’ve been here for a while ~ Rose

This is a review of La Plaga (The Plague) (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


25 February

This is a review of La Plaga (The Plague) (2013), seen at a press-screening at The Institute of Contemporary Art (@ICA) in advance of its series
Catalan Avant-Garde


The season opens on 28 February 2015, and, with La Plaga screening on Tuesday 27 October, runs until Friday 18 December, the full programme being (all screenings at 8.50 p.m.) :

Saturday 28 February
Sobre La Marxa (The Creator of the Jungle) (2013) followed by a Q&A with director Jordi Morató

Tuesday 28 April
El Cafè de la Marina (The Marina Café) (2014) followed by a Q&A with director Sílvia Munt

Friday 26 June
Tots volem el millor per a ella (We All Want What's Best for Her) (2013)

Friday 28 August
Born (2014) followed by a Q&A with director Claudio Zulián

Tuesday 27 October
La Plaga (The Plague) (2013)

Friday 18 December
El cant dels Ocells (Birdsong) (2008) followed by a Q&A with director Albert Serra


The physicality of La Plaga (The Plague) (2013) is evident before the first frame is seen, there in the sound of what could – emerging from a blacked-out screen – have been energetic sex, but is another form of exercising, Iurie* wrestling in a practice session at the gym.

In fact, the notion of the tactile, or the substantiveness of matter and of action, could easily be perceived as the theme around which this film is built – and, on the natural-world side, we are (perhaps inevitably) reminded of Terrence Malick, with (in another era) undertones of The Book of Exodus and Old Testament judgement in Days of Heaven (1978) (or even, before that, in Ingmarssönerna (Sons of Ingmar) (1919))…

However, not least as this is in ICA’s series of films, grouped under the heading Catalan Avant-Garde, it is arguable that the film also, and more subtly, meditates on the nature of choices, whether or not our own : some of them do not always prove to leave us where we expected to be, but, in retrospect, we can still very clearly trace them back to where we started**. It is probably universal to experience the feeling that we have striven to get somewhere (or have been propelled towards it), and almost everyone in this film not only says states what his or her story is, but also has to address it in some way.

This state of knowing why we are where we are is by contrast with our casual, everyday decision-making, where we might easily have forgotten our motivation (or the impulse for change) – much as we might have discarded our rough working for a plan, or a calculation. Here, our original aspiration, what it was all for, has not been submerged, so, if asked to account for living in (or not living in) X, we can frequently say straightforwardly that we moved to this house, took this job, because of Y. Here, all the principal figures know why they are where we see them, even if that explanation no longer really works as a sufficient one for why they have to remain, or choose to remain.

On this level, one is reminded more than a little of another Catalan film in this series, which screened twice (both times with Q&As) at Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (@camfilmfest / #CamFF) : Tots volem el millor per a ella (We All Want What’s Best for Her) (2013). That said, director and co-writer Mar Coll comes at this question differently, and thus it is not from a choice that leads us elsewhere, but from other people’s expectations after a serious accident***. Here, Geni (wonderfully played by Nora Navas) is in the position of finding her relations to her life, her family, her job, her friends all in transition, because she desires what people want for her, but there are things about her now that they do not realize – or will not acknowledge : by contrast, La Plaga has several people on the verge of the unforeseen consequences of their actions, and of the plans that lay behind them.

A closer reference than that in Tots volem, although that film’s intense connection with the experience of the linked issues of physical and mental disability assuredly takes it out of the mainstream, is with the even more experimental film Sieniawka (2013), which also screened twice (with Q&As) at Cambridge (in 2013). The connection is largely in the blurring between acting and footage originally taken for pure (sic ?) documentary purposes, because we emerge from the unexplained happenings outside of a psychiatric institution, whose name (taken from its location) gives the film its title, to quiet, often almost painfully drawn-out sequences in it, before the film finally takes us out again :

One would have to be uncertain about calling Sieniawka a documentary, even in its long central part (where – one is told – it was filmed as it is seen), but one is likewise uncertain about what is captured, what re-created, in La Plaga. The distinction that one could perhaps draw is that it is of far less consequence, in the latter case, which is which****. Likewise because the performances / characters (as themselves), in particular, of Maria Ros and Rosemarie Abella are so strong, one feels for what is happening between them when one is in the care of the other, and more poignantly, since, as Rose tells Maria, neither really had wanted to be where necessity has taken them.

The film appears to unfold essentially chronologically, and some developments (though they are not always explained, not even later on) are shown in a sequential manner. However, it often enough floats free of requiring a structure – for those who watch a film such as Amour*** (2012), and do not desire everything to be spelt out, it will pose no obstacles. None, that is, beyond those of relaxing into trusting one’s intuition, and of learning not to concentrate too much on the detail of some screen-time activity or specificity (e.g. wrestling, or dancing) :

For the more that, at such moments, one observes La Plaga in what seem its intended broad terms (and filters out what is extraneous to the scene), the less one may pose oneself a great effort for low yield. That may sound like a quite negative comment, but it is the truest way to watch kindred types of film to this one, such as Sacro GRA (2013) – with, also, its placing of the rural in relation to the urban (and hints of Aesop’s Fables, with that of ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse’ ?) – or Leviathan (2012), or Samsara (2011).

In essence, then, one could regard these films as long narrative poems, rather than sonnets, which one can hear in under a minute (and almost mentally analyse as they are being read). For that reason, they need to be taken in, as a whole, and without anxiety about, or over-attention to, the content (save in relation to its place in the general form) – for some, perhaps a different way of watching, and of being with, a film ?


End-notes

* Iurie’s name, in a sans-serif typeface, looks as if it begins with a lower-case ‘l’, and he was playing [a version of] himself. (Not that it matters much to an appreciation of the film, but so was everyone.)

** Quite a difficult read, in Samuel Beckettt’s canon from the early 1960s, but maybe one is reminded, in all this, of the schema of his Comment c’est (which Beckettt translated into English from the original French as How It Is) ?

*** I.e. that one can climb back and resume one’s life, and that, if one can, one should. In Amour (2012), Michael Haneke directs Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant in giving us the life after another (less clearcut ?) medical emergency, and, likewise, we have the hard kind of choices that Nora Navas (Geni) is seen making, under Mar Coll’s direction, in Tots volem.

**** The extent to which Sieniawka feels exploitative is one of the topics handled in the Festival review.




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

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