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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

It's only in uncertainty that we're naked and alive ~ Peter Gabriel¹

This is a Festival preview of The Virus of Fear (El virus de la por) (2015)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

16 October

This is a Festival preview of The Virus of Fear (El virus de la por) (2015) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2016)

Albert Ausellé (as Hèctor) and Diana Gómez (Laura)

Well meant, for those who do not look to film to be easy and entertaining, people will find this sharply-edited film provocatively claustrophobic, in the way that Arthur Miller's The Crucible² is (or Max Frich's Andorra - please see below). (Its effect is gripping as a Vimeo download on a laptop, so it should be wildly immersive in Screen 1 at The Arts Picturehouse (APH / Festival Central), where it is programmed both times : please see below for the times, and for links to book seats.)

Rubén de Eguia as Jordi

(Rubén is expected as a Festival guest of Ramon Lamarca,
programmer of Camera Catalonia)

The Virus of Fear (El virus de la por) is a film that may turn out not to be ‘about’ what its subject is likely to seem to be. Not least if one guesses at its nature from the film's title, and from ways in which, sometimes largely figuratively, we have come to think what a virus is (rather than in the literal sense of Contagion (2011), Surprise Film at Cambridge Film Festival (#CamFF) in that year).

It's so twisted ~ Jordi

Yet it is does not follow from any such realization³ that anyone would be precluded from wanting to watch El virus de la por again straightaway, because knowing what happens may leave us wanting to know more closely how we got there⁴ – how the experience gained by seeing the film has been created. Though - unlike Mulholland Drive (2001) might cause us to feel - it is not that Ventura Pons' cinematic world, as director (and co-writer), involves rather bewildering sleights of hand - yet, at the same time (and in an apparently naturalistic setting), the unfamiliar does assuredly appear familiar (and vice versa, as considered further below).

An image from a review of Archimedes' Principle
The play and this film's screenplay developed in a coeval manner

It is rather that we may know that is going to be worth retracing the journey that we took with the film : as one may have found with the power in and of Kreuzweg (Stations of the Cross) (2014) at the Festival in 2014, whose impact was even stronger on a second viewing - or with The Taste of Money (2012) [one of Fifteen fine festival films at the Festival, from 2011 to 2013].

The stage-play Archimedes’ Principle [does physics still, more long-windedly, talk of The Principle of Archimedes ?] and the screenplay for El virus de la por originated alongside each other, since playwright Josep Maria Miró (@josepmariamiro / was working with director Ventura Pons to co-write the screenplay. As a review of Archimedes’ Principle put it two years ago, when it was playing at London’s Park Theatre : we jump around in time, playing and replaying scenes, which take on different meanings once an alternative position has been expressed.

I really enjoy playing with discontinuous narrative ~ Ventura Pons

If we have not seen El virus de la por, the description in the review may at first remind us of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal⁵, a play with starts backwards and forwards in time, which make us ever aware that nothing, after all that we have seen and heard in the opening scene and then straight afterwards, is what it seems. However, in terms of theatre, there are closer analogues to what we see, such as in Max Frisch’s Andorra, with clashes between fact, what people believe, and how they act, or in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis clos [the play gives us the quotation much used in translation, Hell is other people (L'enfer, c'est les autres)]. The link is to a t.v. production in English (in 1964), with Pinter himself, Jane Arden, and Catherine Woodville : in In Camera (as the title in French is rendered), there is no static presentation, but a camera that roams, and with a wide selection of angles and framing-shots...

Much of which, for a work of cinema, is perhaps significantly missing from the film Betrayal⁵ (1983) ? And yet was present in the way that Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr and his wife Margrethe - as if, physically, they were sub-atomic particles - vividly seemed to relocate and rotate, at times, in a production of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen that came to The Arts Theatre, Cambridge (@camartstheatre) [Frayn was interviewed by The Stage (@TheStage), and starts by talking about the play].

If one reads what Edward Murray wrote (albeit in 1972), he does not disagree with what is said in the Tweet by Raindance Film Festival (@Raindance). (Chapters 7 and 20 of his book The Cinematic Imagination⁶ are critiques of, respectively, ‘the Cinematic Drama’ and ‘the Cinematic Novel’, and of present trends in each.) Even so, Murray goes further, raising serious doubts about the wisdom of the enterprise :

The immense majority of superior plays fail to survive the transfer from stage to screen ; while inferior plays ― though they ordinarily adapt better than major works ― hardly ever achieve the level of the most distinguished original screenplays.

The Cinematic Imagination⁶, pp. 101–102

Told later – by Ramon Lamarca, programmer of Camera Catalonia – that El virus de la por’s essential scenario also exists as a stage-play, this ‘clicked’, and made sense. However, because it is a very good collaboration, and does not even feel like a deliberately respectful adaptation of ‘a classic’ (such as is Sílvia Munt’s of Josep María de Sagarra in El Cafè de la Marina [Munt was interviewed, as reported here, and the film which screened at Cambridge Film Festival in 2015, with guest Vicky Luengo]), it is highly sympathetic to the medium, and immediately in tune with what Murray rightly says that we look to in such a screenplay :

When a play is brought to the screen, the audience has a right to expect a degree of cinematic technical complexity, and a level of thematic depth at least comparable to the original. There is no question here of literal fidelity to the source [emphasis added].

The Cinematic Imagination, p. 169

Reassure me that I don't have any reason to worry ~ Anna (Roser Batalla)

Unless one is highly adjusted to trailers and the work of excessive revelation that they usually perform, it is unideal to watch the film’s ‘making of’ first. That said, one does hear in it how director Ventura Pons and playwright Josep Maria Miró wrote the screenplay, and of the wider possibilities that it offered both – such as a real swimming-pool and water for Miró, and what Pons found when, breaking the habit of eight earlier adaptations, he worked with what were mainly stage-actors from the play’s original cast (from whom we also hear what they learnt by (adjusting to) being on a film-set, not just on a stage…).

This film is one whose opening gaze, an establishing shot from a vantage, and with the sound of the clock-display that we see clicking over, second by second, presents the time, is also located in time, and concerns itself with what happens within its chosen shifting timescale - for, including credits, we move from 7.45 a.m. to 3.09  p.m. within the first four minutes and thirty seconds :

By then, the seeds of everything have been sown, and yet everyone proves to know so little – we included – about how to protect all that we value. (Max Frisch – whose play Andorra was referred to above – famously sub-titled another of his plays (Biedermann und Die Brandstifter) ‘ein Lehrstück ohne Lehre’, which (although we might directly translate it as A lesson without teaching) effectively means that it is a parable.)

Maybe not for some a camera that is all too rigorous in obsessively looking at everything from every viewpoint. However, it has to be said that this film is ultimately not an extreme, practical lesson in moral relativism – those in tune with it will both find Pons’ directorial approach (and, of course, the cinematography of Andalu Vila-San-Juan) compelling, and then feel a sense of anxious reconsideration of the situation transmuted to embrace all of our own deepest feelings about what it means to be alive.

NB Potential spoiler (especially for those who like to go into a film 'blind')

The broad theme treated of in El virus de la por (The Virus of Fear) might lead one to expect the same genre, mood and manner of development as in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (Jagten) (2012) [the link is to the entry on IMDb (@IMDb)].

Mads Mikkelsen as the hunted Lucas

So it needs to be said that all of those are very different here : if the latter is more like Contagion (2011) (mentioned above in passing, and also near that date of first release), El virus de la por is more like Sílvia Munt’s El Cafè de la Marina

End of spoiler...

* * * * *

There are two scheduled screenings of El virus de la por (2015) [the link is to the #CamFF web-page for the film] during Camera Catalonia (the links below are to the booking-pages for each screening) :

* Sunday 23 October at 3.30 p.m.

* Wednesday 26 October at 11.50 a.m.

End-notes :

¹ From Peter Gabriel's (@itspetergabriel's) ‘That Voice Again’ (on the album So (1986) (PG5)).

² Or even his own adapted screenplay, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder, in 1996 ?

³ If one does find it right that the varying perspectives with which we find ourselves presented, as, within and between events, we move around spatially and temporally, at last coalesce into another dimension of life, taking on quite a different dimension, or even a changed Weltanschauung : if, from naturalistic presentation, we find ourselves entering a more symbolic realm, where we confront what our common humanity comprises (perhaps as in The Idiot (Idioot (2011), which screened in 2012).

⁴ Not uniquely (as, for example, audio-recordings can be exactly replayed), films can have this fascination about them – as some say that they found with Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michael Faber’s Under the Skin (2013) – and one very clearly knows that one wants to watch them again.

⁵ Pinter gave it a fairly direct translation to film in his screenplay of Betrayal (1983), with Ben Kingsley, Jeremy Irons, and Patricia Hodge – a film that director Mar Coll, Festival guest at Camera Catalonia in 2014, in passing indicated not approving, when talking about her work on the play’s material with students of film-making.

⁶ Edward Murray, The Cinematic Imagination : Writers and the Motion Pictures. Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., New York (1972). Leading up to Chapter 7, Murray has considered examples both of plays that try to be too cinematic, and ‘film versions [that] suffer from a bad case of staginess’. [In contemporary cinema, the latter still seems the case with August, Osage County (2013) or Venus in Fur (La Vénus à la fourrure (2013)].

Murray goes on to say that such staginess [in most film versions of plays] 'has not deterred the movie moguls from buying nearly every play ― good, bad, and indifferent ― in sight’ (p. 102), and to quote Eugene O’Neill (in 1960) (p. 105) :

Plays should never be written with … Hollywood in mind. This is a terrific handicap to an author, although few of them seem to realize it.

Quoted in Arthur and Barbara Gelb, O’Neill (New York, 1960), p. 858

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

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