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Friday, 21 October 2016

Midsummer Night's Revelry and Revelations

This is a Festival preview of Barcelona Summer Night (2013)

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

12 September

This is a Festival preview of Barcelona Summer Night (Barcelona, nit d'estiu) (2013) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2016)

What happens whilst waiting for the main event can be more important…

In our recent history, hearing the news of the shooting of John Lennon, or an occasion such as New Year’s Eve 1999 (but also built up by The Millennium Bug – and what its dread consequences were supposed to be), are alike often cited as moments when we can be confident of remembering where we were, and what we were doing, at the time :

However, Director Dani de la Orden’s film does not concern itself with learning the hard central facts of something that has happened (with subsidiary reports that follow, as the story ‘breaks’) - or the immediacy of wondering which city’s fireworks were going to be the best (Sydney Harbour Bridge ?), but about the curious nature of the time in between, where uncertainty precedes expectation… A comet called Rose (Roser in Catalan) is coming, but what will it / she do, what does it mean right now ?

A prodigy of fear and a portent
Of broached mischief to the unborn times
Henry IV, Part I (Act V, Scene 1)

Forty-eight years after Shakespeare’s death, there was another such bright comet, which not only provoked fears for what it might herald, but actually also turned out to precede both The Great Plague¹ (1665) and – as if it could then get no worse – The Great Fire of London (1666). Fear and portents indeed !

Albeit Shakespeare is present only in a low-key way in this film (for those who choose to find him), it is relevant to quote him because, be it in the accidental or deliberate confusions of A Midsummer Night's Dream (or those of As You Like It), he deals with themes and emotions that continue to occupy twenty-first-century hearts and minds² - ones which, for this reason, have long permeated Continental culture and literature. (Chaucer adapted Giovanni Boccaccio in The Canterbury Tales (in 'The Knight's Tale', for example.)

So, then as now, friends lead each other on, or astray, or even lead themselves off course. Although Barcelona Summer Night is an ensemble film, some characters may not have anything else in common, since it comprises six temporally matched strands, which do not intersect each other (even if, in passing, we may notice some little 'crossings-over'). In this respect, it necessarily shares something with Tasting Menu (Menú degustació) (2013), which was set amongst the diners on the closing night of a restaurant on the Catalan coast, and [had its UK premiere] at Cambridge Film Festival (#CamFF / @camfilmfest) in 2014 : on these pages, its Festival preview had, as its sub-title, A night of enchantment, misunderstanding, and phone-calls.

Here, there are perhaps fewer phone-calls, and whereas the sensibility of Catalunya may seem drawn to what enchants us (and also to what leads to misunderstanding), some of the energy in this film better resembles V.O.S. (2009), another Catalan film, which is surveyed in What is Catalan cinema ?, which looks more closely at films from Camera Catalonia in previous years at the Festival : Barcelona, nit d'estiu is not as playful (or knowing) with the cinematic medium, but the visual and relational vibrancy is of a different kind from that of Menú degustació.

Of course, the film is carefully constructed to have these qualities, but there are feelings of immediacy and naturalness in how it is shot, with cinematographer Ricard Canyellas ably showing that interesting the eye is not inconsistent with, or an interruption in, telling a story, and that cinema should neglect to do so : one could justly ask whether mere story-telling on celluloid deserves to be called or in the cinema...)

The film is also proud of Barcelona (the capital of Catalonia – Catalunya, in Catalan), but does not wish to be more than rooted in the city, rather than making it the much-coined character in its own right, with a clear 'personality', Which, although the screenplay was not originally set there, is what Woody Allen may have successfully done in Vicky Cristina Barcelona³ (2008) [Just as he had (with co-screenwriter Marshall Brickman) in Manhattan (1979) (and was to do again in Midnight in Paris (2011)).]

~ ~ ~

Not to say too much, but facets that Canyellas and de la Orden – and writers Dani González, Eric Navarro, and Eduard Sola – glint off include the following (in no particular order, maybe some imagined ?) :

* FC Barcelona (Barça)

* Montserrat, a legendary twenty-four-hour ice-cream parlour

* The view-point of Bunkers del Carmel (Turó de la Rovira)

* A semi-confessional drinking-game, in English called ‘I have never…’ (it really exists – will it catch on here ?)

* The LGBTQ and club scenes

* Plus, of course, Inca prophecies about Roser (‘Rose’), the comet that everyone is waiting for…

And what portent does Antoni Gaudí’s most famous building in the city have for the night's events ? At the time, surrounded as his cathedral is by cranes, the non-Catalan half of a couple is perhaps less than impressed :

It looks like Mordor, with the eye

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans

‘Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’ ~ John Lennon⁴

* * * * *

End-notes :

¹ Indeed, some continue to hypothesize - and seem back in vogue, for doing so ? - that it was the meteorite that gave rise to the plague (through microbes from outer space, brought in via the meteorite). Naturally, many of the seventeenth-century associations were more grounded in fear and judgement, and of a less scientifically causal or nature...

² This film is far less complicated than As You Like It, which centres on a woman (Rosalind), pretending to be a man (Ganymede), and teaching a man (Orlando) to woo her (as if she were Rosalind) - and all that, in the process, happens all around her... By contrast, the film's love-coaching is fairly uncomplicated ! (But might Rosalind's story crop up in another way ?)

³ The film may have relatively little to commend it, beyond the montage of city-sights, and the contribution of Penélope Cruz (Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in The Academy Awards 2009 (@TheAcademy)) ?

⁴ Though the words are first attributed to Allen Saunders, in Reader’s Digest in January 1957, according to the Quote Investigator web-site.

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

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