More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
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The opening-titles to El reí borni (The One-Eyed King) (2016) are vivid, inventively deploying shapes and colour to present the credits - in, perhaps, a way that is reminiscent of the title sequence of Bond films (and other films of that era) such as Dr. No. (1962)... (As to the title-music used¹, it is subtly energized, using cushioned percussive beats and fuzzy electronics, which underpin a quickly enlarging full sound - the titles are through in only a minute.)
With its origins in the director Marc Crehuet’s own stage-play, the film both feels like ‘a slice of life’, but at the same time is representative of differing opinions about what lawful government is, and what lawful opposition and demonstration : all highly relevant to present-day Catalunya (Catalonia). The film feels very like chamber music, and Crehuet employs writing for chamber forces in the music that we hear² :
The (apparent) solidity of the interior that has been created (Lydia and David’s flat) contrasts with the intangibility of ideas and of the characters’ beliefs – and what they might wish to change, and why. So it is that incongruous conversations during dinner together (always overlooked by an eye-shaped mirror³), and incongruous expectations of willingness to initiate sex in the face of affront, are just part of Lydia and David's compromised married life - Lydia (Betsy Tùrnez) wants to mask the fact, by considering the soup recipe⁴, that David is talking about his job (Controlling the masses).
Though the time-scale remains - to some extent - indeterminate and only relative, at the dinner-party, which is near the opening of the film, Lydia is insistent that Sandra 'disappeared' (which Sandra keeps denying), and David (Alain Hernández) equally so that he knows Ignacio (as turns out to be the case), and he seems happy to describe himself, to him and to Sandra, in ways that prudence and dramatic irony both suggest that he ought not to pursue...
During and after which, much comedy (albeit of a somewhat uncomfortable kind - as when Fawlty Towers did not make one cringe so much that one could no longer watch ? !), where we – fortunate to be on the outside of the four principals' lives – have the privilege of laughing at their utterances and beliefs. Which is partly mediated by the incredulity with which Ignacio (Miki Esparbé) meets them, and then also we experience his heart-break as drawn into his personal life as the title-character.
Having heard how he has withdrawn from social contact (and being able to infer lowered mood and self-esteem), can we, with him, credit some of the pragmatism that is uttered about what has happened - or some of the ways in which his partner Sandra (Ruth Llopis) behaves, whether telling him that her dreams tell her what he, she, or they should do, or initially 'going along with' what Lydia says about ethnic minorities ?
Exotic cuisine, globalization, and the legitimacy of acts of opposition collide in El reí borni (The One-Eyed King) (2016)#CameraCatalonia— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) October 16, 2017
At the centre of the film is a shock that reminds of the various tellings of the fate of the 'turbulent priest' Thomas à Becket (or of the turn that the film adaptation (partly by Ariel Dorfman himself) of his stage-play takes in Death and The Maiden (1994), as Sigourney Weaver begins to confront Stuart Wilson's and her guest, Ben Kingsley) : the same effect of misinterpreting the political and emotional situation in an act that otherwise seen can only seem desperate and deeply mistaken. Even so, the similarities here are not even as strong as to Taxi Driver (1976), and the questions that Martin Scorsese poses there in someone whose actions, despite his real motivations, appear exonerated for incidental reasons⁵.
At the end of it all – when David breaks the so-called fourth wall (or, at any rate, in continuation of his earlier near-hallucinations⁶) – he directs to us, as hitherto complacent viewers, If they can see everything, they must have the answers. For, in watching a film, maybe we do feel that we have the answers - but less so when put on the spot, and asked to identify directly with what we have been watching ?
By the time of the end-credits, our concentration will (more so than at the start) be on 'Some things we do', the closing song - which may sum up the mood at the end of the film, where David's losing his other certainties, even if they were mistaken, feels to have been regretted.
¹ The track is taken from Ben Frost's 'Venter' (not, despite the order of the music-credits, from 'Guardian at the Door' by Valgeir Sigurðsson**).
² Apparently, we hear five in all of Valgeir Sigurðsson's pieces played for the soundtrack. And also, for example, Nico Muhly's Drones & Viola.
³ We may not be aware how it is part of the cast, by showing us things on the table that would not otherwise be visible, and that it is one of the things that David makes sure to smash...
⁴ She also prefers to remember being proud at how good he looks in his uniform, and how to her (when he was speaking after his training) It was just as if you'd been to university.
⁵ As, later, with The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), where it may seem that we are intended to enjoy the misdemeanours and escapades with which Scorsese's version of the real Jordan Belfort is involved...
⁶ Not unlike, as earlier in the film, the internal world of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver ?
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)