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Sunday, 8 October 2017

Captured in amber - or Skin, touching skin

This is a Cambridge Film Festival preview of The Next Skin¹ (2015)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

3 October

This is a Festival preview of La propera pell (The Next Skin¹) (2015)
(for Cambridge Film Festival 2017)

The synopsis, duration and other details for the film can be found here

The question that arises with cinema may sometimes be whether to value a stone for itself -
or for its fossil contents ?

Or - as with the best pieces of amber (even if not strictly constituting ‘a stone’) - for both ?

A mosquito in amber
Photographed (and licensed for use) by Didier Desouens

Early on, La propera pell (The Next Skin¹) (2015) sets its scene in the Pyrenees (with a sparing score by Gerard Gil, and a sound-design that echoes the mountainous landscape). It is then located there, save in retrospect, for the duration, as Michel (a French social worker) travels with and accompanies a teenager², along with the family that lost Gabriel eight years earlier, to settle him in.

In this film, the part of that it that is its location is neither over- nor understated : it is not one of those films where it is typically called (for want of anything better to say) ‘another character’ (or brooding), but it is where it is, and even Ana, Gabriel’s mother (who is ‘from the south’), needs to bear with it³.

Nothing is rushed in this film-making - the initial sounds, and then shots, of thawing ice assure us of this. The cinematographic choices that have been made prefer for what we see to be realistic to our visual sense, and so do not show us sharply what cannot be seen so clearly, and, at other times, employ for narratorial purposes uncertain images, or the effects of a shallow depth of field.

Using the word ‘uncertain’ just now (and – impliedly – ‘unclear’) reflects Isaki Lacuesta and Isa Campo’s tacit acknowledgement to us, as directors, that there is much that just will not be explained in La propera pell [or, as is the custom, in this preview]. However, it is not likely to be – as with Michael Haneke’s films, such as Amour (2012) – that the director / writers profess (as Haneke does) no more than we to know what happened : rather (with work on the script from Fran Araújo), they seem to have differently made such uncertainty part of their subject-matter, i.e. how they tell and / or show what we see. (Thus, one need not necessarily conceive of their not knowing what they choose not to show, but more - in order to put us in the position of the characters - of not showing it.)

The scope of the film is largely located in the time that Michel (Bruno Todeschini) safely believes that he can stay away (before feeling obliged to return to his colleagues). In fact, despite his having been much in the midst of the fuss and friction of unexpectedly fraught relationships and reactions [although – believably – just as often not happening to be there, too (with his off-screen actions are not accounted for)], not only is Michel increasingly not our eyes and ears, but we are also not simply or largely left to decide what we make of the tension, and of the past to which it relates.

Instead, we co-puzzle with the principals about what meant what, and why people’s attitudes might be as they are : from the first, we are aware of Sergi López' (Enric’s) generalized scepticism towards Àlex Monner² (or anyone in the position of his long-lost nephew Gabriel). What we come to gather more is in what his suspicion may be thought to reside… but we will wait in vain for La propera pell to spell everything out.

Àlex Monner and Sergi López

As alluded to in the heading of this posting (elaborating on how the preview has been titled), maybe we will feel ourselves invited, in watching the film, to judge what is true : it may be that one expects of films that, when they have ended, they have apparently said their piece. Yet, if one had watched El virus de la por (The Virus of Fear) (2015) in that expectation, during last year’s Camera Catalonia, the truth is that it simply would not even have 'spoken' fully, if the only time available for it do so was before being due at another screening.

Rubén de Eguia (Jordi) in El virus de la por (2015)

At face value, El virus is naturalistic, but its director, Ventura Pons, is arguably not intending it to be realistic per se. Such a reflective and thoughtful film needs time for us to be of a mind with it, and a film that may seem to concern itself with one thing (i.e. the staff of a sports centre and their interactions with those who use the facilities) may prove to have other pre-occupations⁴ :

What it is to be human, and not just frightened - but terrified - in the face of forces that one does not control or understand.

Brian Dennehy (as Krapp) with tape-recorder

As to Samuel Beckettt, his dramatic œuvre is as varied, about memory and the past⁶, as just the fraction of it that is represented by Krapp's Last Tape (or Not I) - but we could tell from them alone that he knows what it is ruminate, recollect and recall. Likewise, in Company (masterly amongst the last of the prose works), whose limpid telling - which begins with A voice comes to one in the dark. Imagine (and then travels via reflection and cogitation such as Deviser of the voice and of its hearer and of himself. Deviser of himself for company) - may most obviously appear to descend, via a closing form of words, to a single word :

[...] And you as you always were.


Whether heard or read, this word (although it may literally conclude Company) simply is not summative of the foregoing text, or of the import of having experienced the beauty of the writing, the intricacies of the thoughts and the imaginings...

Similarly, with La propera pell, it is suggested that we ought not to let its closing scenes limit what – given space and time – we would find ourselves thinking further. Sometimes, making an instant judgement at the end of a film may satisfy, but only where one it is in virtue of a revelation at its end that its worth consists :

Can we find ourselves content to feel that - within what the film does tell us - there is no scope to think beyond the terms of a single notion of What really happened ? If we cannot view it as such a film, it is one where to reflect about what has been seen will yield what it most means to us.

End-notes :

¹ It seems likely that, as with the phrase mon propre peau in French, the Catalan title translates as 'My own skin'.

² * If you were at Cambridge Film Festival for Camera Catalonia last year, Àlex Monner may seem familiar to you : he played the footballer Jordi in both Barcelona Summer Night (2013) and Barcelona Christmas Night (2015).

³ Assuming, that is, that Ana is Catalan (not Castilian Spanish), the south may be The Balearics, or within the land-mass of mainland Catalunya, and we do not know why Ana (Emma Suárez) moved. (Presumably to be with her husband (??).)

⁴ Thus, on this level, the process of the film – the presenting plot and whether it seems plausible – is subsidiary : how we get to the final scene is less important than realizing, as Jordi (alongside Anna, Hèctor and Laura) is besieged at the end of the film. (Or near the end of the film, before the camera lifts smoothly back to the omniscient vantage-point that it occupied at the start…)

⁵ Taken from ‘Brian Dennehy Knows His Krapp : A discussion with the star of Krapp’s Last Tape, opening this week at the Long Wharf Theatre’, Christopher Arnott’s posting for New Haven Theater Jerk (on 28 November 2011).

⁶ Not for nothing was Beckettt a devotee of Proust and À la recherche du temps perdu (of which Harold Pinter wrote a screen-play).

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

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