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Monday, 10 August 2015

A historically informed and painterly work of cinema

This is a pre-Festival review of Born (2014) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2015)

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

This is a pre-Festival review of Born (2014) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2015)

Note on the title of the film* :

Born is nothing to do with birth, but denotes an area of Barcelona known as El Born (or El Bornet), sometimes conflated with that of La Ribera (meaning ‘the bank’ (of the coastal variety)) in such a way as to denote both areas by the term ‘Born’.

A late-nineteenth-century building survives, called the Mercat del Born (constructed from iron, and formerly a public market), and on its site, when development was planned there (in 2002), extensive remains of the mediaeval city were discovered. Amongst other people, Albert Garcia Espuche has written about this area’s history, and his La Ciutat del Born was an inspiration for this film.

Two years ago, at Cambridge Film Festival (2013) [@camfilmfest / #CamFF], there were two screenings of Eyes on the Sky (Mirant al Cel) (2008) in the Catalan strand (Camera Catalonia) :

That film centred on memories of, and one’s present relationship to, the time when the Italian Air Force was helping Franco’s fascist forces by bombing Barcelona (16 to 18 March 1938), and is described in What is Catalan cinema ? as Movingly mixing documentary, acting, and faux-documentary to dig into past pain. Born evokes that period in Catalan history by observations that one of the characters makes in tidying up the wreckage, and whatever can be salvaged, during the city’s bombardment in the War of [the Spanish] Succession (17011714) :

First time was ten years ago. Then it was the French. Now the British. And they will do it again. And every time it will be worse. And us, the poor… the people who only want to earn an honest living, will always be under the bombs. Until we say enough.

In this one way, the writers of the screenplay [credited as including Albert Garcia Espuche (please see the note on the film’s title (above)), and director Claudio Zulian] momentarily step outside the period, making a reference that necessarily reaches forward in time to those both attacking, and trying to defend, Barcelona more than 220 years later [and, in turn in Eyes on the Sky, to the lives of combatants, on each side, 70 years later].

The cover of Albert Garcia Espuche's publication

Not that concerns such as whom to trust, borrowing money to feed one’s family, and being subject to external forces, influences and events are not, now as then, what we will recognize as part of life, but in every other respect than this passing allusion Born does what it can to keep closely to its period : the approach of Claudio Zuliano, with which both his cast and crew show themselves to be quite in accord, seems to be not to convince us that the action is in the early 1700s, but for them to believe it themselves. So, not for the first time with Catalan film-making, one finds oneself referencing a piece by Borges (previously, it was with Hammudi Al-Rahmoun Font’s Otel.lo (2012) (@otel_lo), from this blog's review of which this is quoted) :

The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, composing a story, in essay form, that touches on the life of the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (Pierre Menard, ‘Author of the Quixote’ (‘Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote’)), imagined how someone (in this case, the fictional Pierre Menard) becomes as Cervantes, partly, at first, by living in exactly the same circumstances as Cervantes and then ends up recreating, word for word, parts of his most famous oeuvre (so, maybe, Borges mocking - amongst literary and intellectual fashions and factions the Laplacean theory of determinism (as well as the writer(s) whom academics consider the model(s) for Menard) ?)

Not method acting as such necessarily, but, as one looks at these locations and how the actors are deporting themselves, one never has in mind that stagey character of, say, some BBC adaptations of Dickens, where one just senses that a street of Georgian properties has been doctored to look as if it is now being occupied in Victorian times [sometimes, one recognizes the Inns of Court in disguise, as they have been well preserved by the legal profession]. Much more, one thinks of how Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman (2013) looked and felt, and because it was so beautifully lit: Born has a painterly regard for how its scenes are composed, and in the use of light and dark*** (another point of contact with Otel.lo (and also El Cafè de la Marina please see below)).

The film falls into three sections, named after Bonaventura (Bonaventura Alberni : Marc Martínez), his sister Marianna (Vicky Luengo), and Vicenç (Josep Julien), an ambitious businessman, who is one of the former’s creditors : in this respect, as well as in the interconnectedness of people who live in proximity to one another, one is reminded of Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy (on which there is more information here in relation to El Cafè de la Marina (2014) (another film in Camera Catalonia 2015)) : the first two parts, in Daniel Auteuil’s version, screened at Cambridge Film Festival in 2013, Marius (2013) and Fanny (2013).

Vicky Luengo as Marianna

Unlike, though, Auteuil’s films of gorgeous technical clarity of image, this film resembles Otel.lo, by making good use of an edgy, documentary style, which really first comes into its own after fifteen minutes : we track Bonaventura, following a confrontation with his landlord, and the immediacy involves us in his inner workings, through the language of demeanour and expression, as he walks the streets.

As we will see both Marianna and Vicenç do, we are with Bonaventura when, after refreshing himself with water from the spring, he makes an important realization / decision in his life, and not conveyed in speech no moment of soliloquy, but in his look, and then in his movements and gestures, until his purpose becomes clear with what the Notary announces a couple of minutes later. For those who like this sort of approach, and realize that a really good piece of cinema may have been made with dialogue not in English, Born has great dramatic quality, and all the rootedness in how ships and trade govern people’s lives and fortunes that we esteem in a play such as The Merchant of Venice.


* Derived from the Wiki articles and

** Essentially, to see whether Charles III or Philip V would rule Spain (amongst other countries).

*** The director of photography and art director are, respectively, Jimmy Gimferrer and Lali Canosa. One is reminded of the use of darkness in masterpieces by Caravaggio, such as The Supper at Emmaus :

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

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