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Thursday, 10 October 2019

Back in Berlin¹, the silence(s) behind the chatter : A Festival preview of Les distàncies (Distances) (2018)

This is a Preview of Les distàncies (2018) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2019)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

19 September

This is a Festival preview (uncorrected proof) of Les distàncies (Distances) (2018) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2019)

The #CamFF synopsis, duration and other details for the film can be found here,
and it screens on Friday 19 October [in Screen 2 at APH (Festival Central)] at 5.45 p.m.

Principal themes (alphabetical order) :

* Fears
* Friendship
* Jealousy
* Possessiveness
* Surprises

If it makes you happy
It can't be that bad
If it makes you happy
Then why the hell are you so sad ?

'If It Makes You Happy' ~ Sheryl Crow (from her album If It Makes You Happy)

Those who recall the films Barcelona Summer Night (2013) or Barcelona Christmas Night (2015), during #CameraCatalonia² at Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (@camfilmfest), will find themselves recollecting another side of meeting to party : which is when the heart, and its affections, and the mind, and its afflictions, will not necessarily co-operate with such aims.

Les distàncies (Distances) (2018) is not a million miles away, in mood, from texts by Milton, and how Handel sets them, in L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, HWV 55 - or even from the Pixar film Inside Out (2015) ?

Hence loathed Melancholy,
Of Cerberus, and blackest Midnight born,
In Stygian cave forlorn,
'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy;
Find out some uncouth cell,
Where brooding Darkness spreads his jealous wings,
And the night-raven sings;
There under ebon shades, and low-brow'd rocks,
As ragged as thy locks,
In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell

'L'Allegro'³ ~ John Milton

For, whereas the Barcelona films arguably took up the frailties of our relations with each other, be they ineptly saying the wrong thing, vying for another's attentions, or (nearly) making the same mistake again, two factors mitigated against those elements being treated 'heavily', and so risking over-balancing the lighter feeling of the film(s) overall⁴ (than that of Les distàncies) :

First, those films were in strands⁵, which meant that one did not (or could not ?) easily follow the film as a whole, and yet leave one's thoughts for long, say, in over-analysing, in Barcelona nit d'estiu (2013), the stages of interaction / attraction between Albert and Roser. Or, in both films, with the plight of Miki Esparbé - who is also in Les distàncies (Distances) - as the hapless prospective, or actual, father (as the case might be).

In addition, some of the strands were, in themselves, intended to be lighter in mood, such as Miki Esparbé, barely knowing how to react to fatherhood, let alone the fact that it becomes known to others when he only just knew of it, or the two friends, chasing after the same girl in a way that did not preclude a ruthless mistranslation from English by the one who speaks it.

In Les distàncies (Distances), we see writ large how a difficult situation for the entire cast of five, albeit one of their own making or choosing, so quickly puts finer feeling beyond easy reach, and thereby exemplifying our tendencies to sleuthing, sabotage (and self-sabotage), and side-lining or side-stepping others : for example, we see someone, who has no more right to be in a building than the person who comes to call, pull out all the stops to be deflective and intrusive of that other’s feelings, and then to find and be very disrespectful to that person’s possessions afterwards.

As we will find out, almost no one has a good reason to be in Berlin – at least, not one that, behind the pretext, was known to the others – and the hurts and the expectations, the unspoken attitudes and the assumptions, soon become exposed and raw. As with the double-doors between the parts of the flat in Michael Haneke's Amour (2012), we those in the one that Comas / Alex has acquired being used to partition and barricade the space.

Except that it was a pair of principals, the great Nora Navas (Natàlia) and Francesc Garrido (Daniel) in L’adopció (Awaiting) (2015) (during Camera Catalonia in 2016) showed how a stressful situation and having to be in another country did not merely double their difficulties, but magnified the uncertainties within the relationship, and, in Júlia ist, the new experiences and opportunities in Berlin are tempered by ambivalences that arise from being there.

In a very effective touch at the close of the film, all the lack of communication comes out all at once, and some things that we thought that we understood at the time have assumed a different meaning.

End-notes :

¹ During #CameraCatalonia 2018, we were also in Berlin (most of the time) for Elena Martín's brilliant Júlia ist (2017) : Martín played Júlia, and directed and co-wrote the film. (As well as the preview (by #UCFF), Sarah Henkel wrote this review for TAKE ONE.)

² Plus Q&As afterwards, with guests from the cast(s) in conversation with the Catalan programmer, Ramon Lamarca : always a feature of Camera Catalonia, for guests to come from Catalunya to talk about their work, with Ventura Pons and Claire Bloom last year (2018), talking about Miss Dalí (2018).

³ 'Il Penseroso' embraces Melancholy, as the opening of 'L'Allegro' (as quoted) rejects it / him, but - for the purposes of Handel's libretto, in setting them for L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato - James Harris arranged and interleaved Milton's orginal antithetical poems, and Charles Jennens originated the text of a third voice, in 'Il Moderato'.

⁴ Though not just the darker nights around Epiphany (6 January), which is when, in Catalunya (as in Spain as a whole), gifts are given (not the UK's wonted 25 December), perhaps made for a slightly more sombre (reflective ?) feel to Christmas Night ?

⁵ However, these were not strands in the discrete, but interlocking, sense of a unity, which is what Esteve Soler gives us, for this year’s #CameraCatalonia, in 7 Raons de Fugir (de la societat) (2019). (The film is Soler's adaptation, for cinema, of portions from his dramatic work, and which (with David Torras and Gerard Quinto) he co-directed.)

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

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