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Friday, 14 August 2015

Light floods in : through windows, and into souls

This is a pre-Festival review of El Cafè de la Marina (2014)

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

14 August

This is a pre-Festival review of El Cafè de la Marina (2014)
(for Cambridge Film Festival 2015)

Funny how a few words on a ticket can say so much

It is a tribute to a cinematic adaptation of a play, let alone of a celebrated one in verse, when such a film feels cinematic, and when there are not great traces of its origins : the review, on these pages, of August, Osage County (2013) was probably not alone in finding that the film badly failed both tests (so did Venus in Fur (La Vénus à la fourrure) (2013)).

The place on the Catalan coast that director Sílvia Munt, when in conversation, said that she had been scouting for has, as we will movingly see at one point, a history, but meaning more than that what once happened here : recognizable individuals, who made a living from the sea, and had families and their community on this shore. It is two centuries on from the time of Born (2014), also showing in Camera Catalonia (at @camfilmfest / #CamFF), but we have that same sense of how the past is still with us, and has given us what we call the present*.

For those who know it, the story of Josep María de Sagarra’s play El Cafè de la Marina has similarities to that of Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy** (coincidentally referred to in the informal interview with Munt, before the film screened for the first time in the UK). (The first two parts in Daniel Auteuil’s adaptation, Marius (2013) and Fanny (2013), screened at the Festival in 2013, with Auteuil playing César, the anxious father.) The resemblances are there, though it is hardly as though de Sagarra’s status should depend on this single play or its origins. (In company with A. A. Milne, he seems to have been prolific as poet, playwright, novelist, translator and journalist, even if Milne is forgotten for those things.)

Four great films on one #CamFF 2013 page : Not only the Pagnol / Auteuil adaptations, but the colourful Drako Zarharzar (@DrakoZarharzar) [and a Q&A with the equally colourful Toby Amies (@TobyAmies)], and the best film missed (in error) at the Festival

Moreover, from Chaucer using dream poetry in French to found his own to Shakespeare never seeming to have a plot (even of plays such as Lear or Hamlet) for which he had not relied on one or more sources writing can be far more about the telling than the story itself (and we do not denigrate One Thousand and One Nights, or The Decameron, for that). Just as de Sagarra wrote a play in verse form, what we need to respect is that Munt has distilled its essence into a film of around eighty minutes.

We begin with two young friends, larking around in what turns out to be the cafè of the title (a bar, to the edge of the foreshore, rather than what English means by the word), on the beach, and in the village : back at the bar, one of them (Rosa) is our means of introduction to her sister Caterina, and Libori, their widowed father, and it is the eve of Rosa’s wedding (to Rafel). Already, Munt has taken us out to the fishing-boats and around about, and, although much time is concentrated in the bar (or on tables outside for the wedding), the film feels liberated from having had an original stage-setting.

An important element is in the soundtrack, which is partly Joan Alavedra’s original melody ‘Marinada’ (and his arrangements for accordion of other compositions), partly a traditional Catalan fishing song, and partly Xavier Capellas’ compositions for himself on piano and various combinations of six other instrumentalists (including Josep Vila Campabadel ?? on accordion). When we meet Rosa and her friend Gracieta, their excitement whose exact cause is unknown to us is there in what sounds like a zither, mandolin, and guitar. Later, when Caterina is first talking about her life, as Gracieta makes herself up, we just have soft guitar that does not detract from a visual encapsulation of her position : in focus, just Gracieta’s reflection, and, blurred, Caterina (seen in the mirror (right)) and Gracieta (foregrounded (left)). Likewise, as bride and groom leave the reception, accordion and the chalumeau register of the clarinet catch Caterina’s feelings.

Rosa, and her father

The film is all about feelings. We may, though, have seen during Camera Catalonia at the Festival in 2014 in Tots volem el millor per a ella (We All Want What’s Best for Her) (2013), and Ficcío (Fiction) (2006), that there is a reserved side to Catalan behaviour, morals and personality that is not so different from British equivalents (or, for that matter, traditional Russian ones ?), and the playing helps guide us : when someone is being looked out for, we have quiet guitar, piano and cello, but the same instruments, with energy and rhythms, comment on a scene where encouragement has been offered. (Likewise, there is the intensity of light, both when it penetrates into the bar, and in its heightened quality on the walls of the inescapable buildings.)

Ultimately, it is in highly poetic imaginings (easily delivered as more than the equal of those of Marius in Auteuil’s film), and otherwise just in silence, that what matters most is going to be spoken in El Cafè de la Marina. However, Munt has, twice before, effected a wholly filmic transposition between parallel scenes, where the scoring (or, in the latter case, the use of accordion), by leeching from one into the other, has helped prepare the ground for us.

Maybe more importantly, we also gain, in this act of cinema, a sense of a world of events where our connectedness is not mere cause and effect, or consensus rationality [@russellhobanorg], and where what we dare to do, or hope for, matters : utterly different references, admittedly, but the sort of message that continued to attract The Wachowskis in making Cloud Atlas (2012) (or, even if others may have disparaged it, Jupiter Ascending (2015)).


* Through the histrionics of the mother (Meryl Streep) in August, Osage County (2013), maybe we are meant to see something other than the stage-ridden behavior of an aggressive and abusive woman, who has tried to dominate her daughters, and about history… However, dislike it though the contemporary critics may have done, Woody Allen achieved far more in Interiors (1978) (and then in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) [first seen at Cambridge Film Festival]), the former of which influenced Mar Coll with the look of Tots volem il millor per a ella (We All Want What’s Best for Her) (2013), which screened twice at last year’s Festival (both screenings had Q&As afterwards).

** Those who have the desire and a good grasp of Catalan can find on the Internet what is thought to connect Pagnol and de Sagarra, whereas this link (to the Wikipedia® web-page) tells one fairly little :

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

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