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Showing posts with label Nora Navas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nora Navas. Show all posts

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Une maison est une machine à habiter [...] un fauteuil est une machine à s’asseoir ~ Le Corbusier¹

This is a Festival preview of Júlia ist (2017) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

21 August

This is a Festival preview of Júlia ist (2017) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2018)

The #CamFF synopsis, duration and other details for the film can be found here,
and it screens on Sunday 28 October [in Screen 2 at Festival Central] at 5.45 p.m.

As was said last year, about La propera pell (The Next Skin) (2015), Júlia ist (2017) is likely to leave one in need of time for reflection, and so is not likely to benefit from hurrying, Festival style, to the bar for coffee (or stronger) and then straight to one's next film² !

Immediate points of comparison may come to mind in the form of Jeune femme (2017) or Lady Bird (2017), but just using them (although they also defy the notion of fitting into a genre called ‘coming of age’ as such, and the former's protagonist [Paula Simonian, impressively brought to us by Laetitia Dosch] is anyway said to be thirty-one ?) would fail to reflect the fact that the film’s pre-occupations are not necessarily those of a young(er) person – any more than those of Gloria (2013) or Aquarius (2016) are of someone older – but ones that help define our humanity :

They are questions such as how do we want to live, in what relation to others – and in what way might the type of dwelling where we choose to live affect and shape our behaviour and, in consequence, us³ ?

The main thrust of [Tom Wolfe's] talk was to blame Americans for their servility to what he regarded as the socialist ideology of the Bauhaus :

[... It] meant, he said, that its highest goal was the creation of perfect worker housing, meaning housing which looked anti-bourgeois and remained resistant to the trappings of upward mobility. Such housing might be fine for pre-war German artisans, but it was out of place in America, especially in a century when 'the energies and idle pleasures of even the working classes became enormous, lurid, creamy, preposterous.'

Stephen Games ~ From 'Walter Gropius' crystal visions'
[chapter 7 of Behind the Façade⁶]

Looking back to Camera Catalonia in 2014, those are amongst questions that Geni (Nora Navas) asks herself in Mar Coll’s Tots volem il millor per a ella (We All Want What’s Best for Her) (2013) : the expectations - partly from Geni herself, but mainly from others (and thus the ‘Tots volem’ of the title) - are that, with help and over time, she will be able to rehabilitate herself, physically and mentally, after the change in her life that has been brought about by a road-traffic accident. However, as discussed with Mar Coll at the start of an interview (as appended to Rebecca Naghten's review of the film for TAKE ONE), although Geni is seen to put a brave face on things in a medical appointment at the start of the film, she is beginning to realize otherwise : here is a link to the longer version of the trailer for the film.

In Berlin, with Júlia (director and co-writer Elena Martín)

In Júlia ist (2017), and with no more mise-en-scène to paint the background for us than is essential, the change in life is not at all of this magnitude, but of going to Berlin as an Erasmus student as part of Júlia's architecture course (maybe with not good enough German ?) : it seems to have been Júlia’s choice to be in Berlin, but we will ask whose expectations were they of this profession or of coming there to study (and also whether they are wholly realistic). There are certainly numerous hints that we will pick up, amongst the distinctive and stylish presentation of the vibrancy of Berlin⁵, and they should be allowed to speak to us in an intuitive way that connects us to Júlia as a person, irrespective of her age, but not of her qualities of emotional intelligence, in this role in which Elena Martín directs herself.

Gloria (2013) and Aquarius (2016) raised issues of their
principal characters’ personal and emotional qualities :
Paulina García and Sônia Braga are pictured (upper two images and lower, respectively)

Early on, for example, Júlia goes to buy some beer in a shop, and, having picked a couple of bottles out, then seems to play safe by buying ones, instead, with a gold-coloured star on a red cap (the familiar trademark of Catalunya’s own Estrella Damm). (She may not realize it herself, but, when she is asked questions, one of the answers that we will hear her give most often is ‘I don’t know’.) On Júlia’s return to the flat, it is evident that the others with whom she is staying do not share her attitudes or interests, and it then also becomes more so that, from home (via Skype®), there is parental disapproval of her finding somewhere with a friend, with whom she thinks that she will find it more congenial to live.

In terms of Júlia's participation in the group that is devising an entry for a prize-competition, where they debate what dwellings are and the related question how they should be designed, we are probably not much meant to follow the ideas and the discussion about them in literal or specific terms (or just to go to the other extreme, and see that their taking place concerning such themes is a necessary means of structuring the film). Rather, we will almost certainly find - on account of how each scene has been edited, and the cut-together of the film as a whole - a meaningful juxtaposition between how, in ideal and non-personal terms, living with others might be viewed and yet how it relates to Júlia's everyday domestic arrangements and / or as an individual in a social circle.

In the best traditions of Camera Catalonia, Júlia ist (2017) has – as Tots volem does – significant elements of a character-study, although the character may also be a place or city (e.g. L’adopció (Awaiting) (2015)), rather than a person (Tots els camins de Déu (All the Ways of God (2014)). (Or the effect of one on the other, as in La propera pell, or El camí més llarg per tornar a casa (The Long Way Home) (2014), but none of these films absolutely has to be looked at in one way rather than in one of the other two.)

He envied Miss Barrace at any rate her power of not being. She seemed, with little cries and protests and quick recognitions, movements like the darts of some fine high-feathered free-pecking bird, to stand before life as before some full shop-window. You could fairly hear, as she selected and pointed, the tap of her tortoise-shell against the glass.
The Ambassadors ~ Henry James

When the character is a place and its differing mores, sometimes one is reminded of the clash of cultures in Henry James that is experienced by visitors to Europe from the States, such as in The Ambassadors or The Golden Bowl, and of which a vivid example would be of the shock to Marc (Miquel Quer) of Venice, as an innocent abroad, in Jordi Torrent’s La redempció dels peixos (The Redemption of the Fish) (2013) [which screened in Camera Catalonia in 2013].

A production-shot from La redempció dels peixos (2013)

If we think of Barcelona as A City that does not Sleep, which is what is presented by the opening to what is the tragic unfolding of Stockholm (2013) or the setting, from Camera Catalonia in 2016, of Barcelona nit d’estiu (Barcelona Summer Night) (2013) [images from both of which are shown below], we may forget that whether one is used to night-life may be partly a matter of class (as we can tell from hearing and seeing Júlia's family, and also the fact that she is an Erasmus student), and may also be determined by whether Júlia has attended her university studies from home in Catalunya (Catalonia). (In Stockholm, ‘Ella’ (Aura Garrido) lives with her mother [Javier Pereira plays ‘Él’].)

Trailers are linked to for Stockholm (upper two images) and Barcelona nit d'estiu (below)

Earlier, Geni was talked about, as a woman facing a very significant change (in Tots volem), and the film L’adopció (2015) was mentioned, in which the great Nora Navas likewise stars, as an example of where a place acts as a character-study in Catalan cinema : leaving aside how that film riffs on The Christmas Story⁶, Natàlia and her partner Daniel (feelingly played by Francesc Garrido) find themselves called to make all sorts of unenvisaged financial, moral and familial compromises - or else abandon the purpose, i.e. international adoption, that brought them to another country.

Clearly, Júlia does not have the extreme experience of either character played by Navas, but she does need to find her own way of being and of living : done with initially seeking out links from home, it proves to be in a meeting with lifestyles that are Bohemian, not to say 'alternative', that Júlia acclimatizes herself to Berlin, and to its various joys and pains.

By the time of the brief scene with a friend on the bank of the River Spree, Júlia understands both herself, and also the significance of her time in Berlin, much better : we, similarly, find with her that it is at this moment when we understand the reason for the title of the film.

Gropius retained the mysterious ability to see in the ugliness of the modern environment a still-shining crystal symbol of his faith in the future. It may have jeopardised his reason and his art, but that was the German disease.

Stephen Games ~ The last paragraph (adapted) of 'Walter Gropius' crystal visions'
[chapter 7 of Behind the Façade⁴]

Amidst the reviews for Pere Portabella’s Pont de Varsòvia (Warsaw Bridge) (1989), on the IMDb web-page, is written what is apt to cite here for Elena Martín's film :

There are ambitious and elaborate shots, serious attention is paid to colour and palette,
and the camera is put to work, no laziness in this film whatsoever.

The #CamFF synopsis, duration and other details for the film can be found here,
and it screens on Sunday 28 October [in Screen 2 at Festival Central] at 5.45 p.m.

For those who have Catalan, there is a short interview with Elena Martín

End-notes :

¹ We may not consider this matter at all, but, if we know this proposition Une maison est une machine-à-habiter [as sometimes rendered], we think of it as having been made by Le Corbusier :

However, his given name was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, not Le Corbusier, and – as with many assertions that are so pithy that they seem to declaim themselves as utterances ? – this one of his, both highly celebrated and controversial (please see below), is often quoted on its own, without the context that he gave it in his writings (not even in a full sentence (or paragraph)).

Yet, in searching for la formule si célèbre et si controversée, as Sylvette Denèfle, Sabrina Bresson, Annie Dussuet et al. - the authors of Habiter Le Corbusier - call it, one can curiously find these words cited both as ‘Le Corbusier, Vers une architecture, Arthaud, Paris, 1977, p. 73’ [the text dates to 1923, so this appears to be the edition that they have used], and, in an article by Thibaud Zippinger called ‘Humanisme et urbanisme‘ (on the web-site implications philosophiques), as ‘Le Corbusier, Urbanisme, Paris, Crès, 1925, p. 219’.

² During Camera Catalonia in 2016, one would certainly have missed much of the point and import of Ventura Pons' El virus de la por (The Virus of Fear) (2015) by thinking no more than that it was 'about a leisure centre', but - because it wouldn't happen like that in one - dismissing it (for not plausibly being what it only superficially ever was...).

³ As to 'habitat', the Catalan film Sobre la Marxa (The Creator of the Jungle) (2013) also has some questions to ask.

⁴ Stephen Games ~ Behind the Façade, pp. 134-153. Ariel Books / BBC, London, 1985.

At the beginning of the chapter, before the text that is quoted (p. 136, in edited form), Stephen Games humorously describes (as he does throughout (p. 134)) how, when in New York and when attempting ‘to break through the stubborn resistance of [Wolfe’s] answering service’, he tried to obtain a synopsis of the keynote address that Tom Wolfe was to give to the Royal Institute of British Architects in London [at that year's (1979's) joint RIBA and Society of Industrial Artists and Designers annual conference, entitled Frontiers of Design] :

No, Mr Wolfe was not available. No, he was out of town. No, I could not speak to him direct. Yes, they would leave a message. Yes, they would have him call me.

⁵ Pere Portabella’s Warsaw Bridge (Pont de Varsòvia) (1989), which screened, in 2012, in the first Camera Catalonia at Cambridge Film Festival (@camfilmfest / #CamFF), also mixes the Berlin of its title with Barcelona, and the more reflective part of Futuro Beach (2014) takes place there, after starting in the director's native Brazil.

⁶ Which, as the end-notes to the Camera Catalonia preview in these pages make clear, are also apparent in not using a direct translation for the English title, but invoking Advent by calling it Awaiting.

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

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

What more is Catalan cinema ?¹

What more is Catalan cinema ?¹ :

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

4 September (revised 4 October)

What more is Catalan cinema ?¹ :

It's the inevitable filmic follow-up to What is Catalan cinema ?... !

Three years ago, leading up to the third season of Camera Catalonia at Cambridge Film Festival [then in its 34th season], the question was posed What is Catalan cinema ? - in answering which, some of the defining features seemed to be :

Yet, as well as all these things (which, along with the Catalan films from 2012 to that date, are considered in more detail in What is Catalan cinema ?), succeeding seasons of Camera Catalonia have shown that the autonomous region in Spain called Catalunya – which, as with Scotland, some would see have a greater, independent status [highly relevant at the time of revising this piece...] – gives us cinema that :

* Remembers its history, right back to when Spain took control of Catalunya, in Claudio Zulian's (claudiozulian1's) thoughtful Born (2014) (@Bornfilm), reconstructing a few connected lives at the time of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), with Vicky Luengo a most desirable mistress to Josep Julien and the sister of Marc Martínez (Julien’s wealthy debtor, until Julien proves to back the wrong side in the war…)

* In the Catalan people, presents ones as reserved as the British, who - in two films that star the radiant Nora Navas (Tots volem el millor per a ella (We All Want What’s Best for Her) (2013) and L’adopció (Awaiting) (2015)) – manage to avoid talking to each other, but try to make happen what they assume should happen. In doing so, do they seem to lose sight of who is getting hurt, and for what real reason... ?

* Looks to literature such as Shakespeare, either in the feel - in Barcelona Summer Night (Barcelona, nit d'estiu) (2013) - of A Midsummer Night's Dream...

Or, in Hammudi al-Rahmoun Font's shocking telling of a classic tragedy, in Otel.lo (Othello) (2012) : 'OTHELLO is a cinematographic essay about power, desire, jealousy and deceit ; a thought on the boundaries between fiction and real life' (from IMDb)

Hammudi (with The Agent) at Cambridge Film Festival 2014

* Films as diverse as Ficció (Fiction) (2006), Fill de Caín (Son of Cain) (2013), and Menú degustació (Tasting Menu) (2013) are, in their quite different ways, further evidence² of flexibility in, and of creative thinking about, employing conventional elements of story-telling - and of both the expectations to which their nature gives rise and what writers and / or directors do to subvert them

* Or they do not subvert them - but surprisingly please, in Traces of Sandalwood (Rastres de sàndal) (2014) [this link is to TAKE ONE’s (@ TakeOneCinema's) review], with its Bollywood-infused tale of the (in)credulity of a loved and lost young girl, who is adopted into a Catalan family, and cannot believe that an Indian film-star knew her as a child - because she is her sister !

Aina Clotet, as Paula (Sita) - meeting her sister Mina (Nandita Das), and, later, reflecting on herself, and her identity

* Those living at the extremes of experience, in both Tots els camins de Déu (All The Ways of God) (2014) and El camí més llarg per tornar a casa (The Long Way Home) (2014)

Upper : Marc Garcia Coté in Tots els camins de Déu (2014)
Lower : Borja Espinosa in El camí més llarg per tornar a casa (2014)

* Adapts stage-plays very cinematically, whether Sílvia Munt [interviewed here], making a film of Josep María Sagarra's classic work El Cafè de la Marina (2014), or Ventura Pons of a contemporary writer in El virus de la por (The Virus of Fear) (2015)

Marina Salas in El cafè de la Marina (2014)

(Upper) Rubén de Eguia and (Lower) Albert Ausellé and Diana Gómez in El virus de la por (2015)

* Finally, documentaries by Catalan directors - although now listed in the Festival's main sequence (alphabetically with the others and the feature films) - tend to explore identity and connections to Catalan history, whether telling of the band-leader Xavier Cugat's career in film and music, during which he introduced Latin orchestration and rhythms to dance-music and Hollywood films and t.v. (although, which was probably little known, Cugat had been born in Catalunya, but had been an emigrée to Cuba with his family when young), in Diego Mas Trelles' Sexo, maracas y Chihuahuas (Sex, Maracas & Chihuahuas) (2016)

Or - in another realm of translocation - telling of how much better treated and regarded Americans of Afro-Caribbean descent were during their time in Spain (fighting the fascist forces of General Franco) than in the States - especially after going there. So #CamFF 2015 guest Jordi Torrent (with his co-writer / director Alfonso Domingo) showed in Héroes invisibles : Afroamericanos en la guerra de España (Invisible Heroes) (2015) [for which #UCFF interprets the sub-title as ‘The part played by Afro-Americans in The Spanish Civil War’], to the extent even that records that proved their participation hardly (were meant to) be available / survive

Ramon Lamarca (left), with Festival guest Jesús Monllaó (before the poster for Monllaó's
Fill de Caín (2013)) - by and courtesy of David Riley

Catalan cinema - to judge by the films that Camera Catalonia programmer Ramon Lamarca (pictured above) brings to Cambridge (and also the ICA (@ICALondon)) - is high-quality work that values its audiences enough to respect them :

Join us for the sixth year of a Catalan strand at Cambridge Film Festival, Camera Catalonia, to see why he and #UCFF give it due regard

End-notes :

¹ A deliberate nod to the inelegance of following up Analyze This (1999) with Analyze That (2002) (fairly criminally unwatchable, unless being very kind - for their other, better work - to Crystal and De Niro ?)... [Cristina Roures, pictured, is the Festival's Operations and Hospitality Manager (and, of course, is Catalan).]

² Camera Catalonia in 2012 (its first appearance at #CamFF) had included V.O.S. (2009), which is also – along with Ficció (2006) - the work of director Cesc Gay.

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

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

I’m less scared this way ~ Natàlia

This is a Festival preview of Awaiting (L’adopció) (2015)

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

5 October

This is a Festival preview of Awaiting (L’adopció) (2015) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2016)

Even down to the name Natàlia (originally meaning ‘Christmas Day’) and also when in the year the film is set, one could be tempted to make much of clear elements that parallel the account of The Nativity in Matthew’s gospel¹. Although acknowledging them, since they may inform one’s understanding of Awaiting (L’adopció) when reflecting on the film afterwards, what director Daniela Fejerman primarily seems to have on her mind (with her co-writer Alejo Flah) are questions of what, emotionally and otherwise, something is truly worth, and whom one trusts – and why.

Which is not to suggest that Awaiting conveys itself as applied moral philosophy (or sociology) : no more so than when those matters figure, in dramatic terms, in the films of Ken Loach (e.g. Jimmy’s Hall (2014)), or in the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit (2014)), which are also set in a different stratum of society – please see the following paragraph. Rather, these are questions in life that we can find ourselves asking at any time, such as :

What am I willing to continue to do, even given what I have already invested of myself ?

Daniel (Francesc Garrido) and Natàlia (Nora Navas)

Unlike Loach, which is perhaps typical of Catalan cinema, we are concerned with a middle-class couple, but we see still how pressures, both from within the wider family and from the situation to which Daniel (Dani) and Natàlia have committed themselves, feed each other, and affect them both. In a film such as We All Want What’s Best For Her (Tots volem el millor per a ella (2013), which director Mar Coll brought to Cambridge Film Festival in 2014²), some of us may already have had the chance to see the remarkable psychological insight that, then as now, Nora Navas (Natàlia) brings to her roles. (There, her life has been turned inside out by the emotional and relational consequences of (what we learn was) a car accident.)

For this quality, in Awaiting, Nora Navas is well matched by the portrayal of Dani by Francesc Garrido, who runs a gamut of emotions with her – in his case, from joy, desire, and impishness to angry frustration, resignation, and despair. We have a strong sense of a pair whose understanding of each other, and patience with and belief in Lila (whose local agency has arranged their visit), is put to severe strain by what happens after they have travelled to Lithuania in the expectation of being able to adopt a child (a son ?).

It has to be said, for those who need everything explained to them, that - in common with lacking a complete explanation of the world of Geni (Nora Navas) in We All Want What’s Best For Her - they will look in vain for anything other than what can be inferred or hazarded about that which we see : for example, what Dani and Natàlia’s positions in life are, back in Catalonia (Catalunya in Catalan), or why there is a difficult relationship between Natalia and her father (Jordi Banacolocha), which (as Geni also does) she is obliged to start addressing...

Uniquely, just after the visuals behind the credits have imparted a sense of passage into coldness and otherness, we are privileged with a knowledge of the sort of difficulties that have been left for Dani and Natàlia to face - momentarily, we are prepared for the symbolic emptiness that is conveyed to them by the slatted belt of the carousel at baggage reclamation. When it stops, all that is there – as they look into the hall behind them (and as Juan Carlos Gómez’s camera gradually pulls back to show us) – is a perfunctory Christmas tree : the principle is immediately established that perhaps they need to wait to see what is happening.

Even so, at first we see that they are trying to influence what is happening – despite the fact that the airport official and they are both uttering words that the hearer(s) do not understand – except that, just when we may be noticing the repetition, Natàlia identifies it to Dani³. There is then a sense of their stepping back, and reclaiming what they share – what they have together, as an outlook, a sense of humour, and so on.

I have a good feeling about this ~ Natàlia

So, after meeting Lila (Larisa Kalpokaitė), being driven to their flat, and, when they are alone, the playfulness of their interaction early on, they take drags on a cigarette that they smoke in common - there is a continuing lightness in the interplay (before going on to have more fun with what Lila said, telling them that they need to dress to impress) :

Dani : The coffee is disgusting.

Natàlia (echoing his tone) : Disgusting.

The adeptness of the cinematography is an essential ingredient in what makes this a film to cherish, but the camerawork is enmeshed in the other qualities of the film-making : so, Gómez edges in, or comes around, carefully and in order not to intrude on our attention except for effect – just as when editor Teresa Font, at a few significant moments, uses montages, with fast-cutting between shots, to reflect the changing contours of emotions as different as buoyant pleasure and trying to meet a need for consolation.

We’ll leave it up to God ~ Dani

Xavier Capellas

Such contrasting aspects are implicit in Xavier Capellas’ score for the film (Capellas both directed the ensemble and played piano for the soundtrack, which is nominated for Best Original Music at the VIII Gaudí Awards, and the film for three other 'Gaudís'), and the way in which his original work of composition is used apart from, and yet in harmony with, the simplicity of solo piano - numbers from Béla Bartók’s Gyermekeknek (For Children⁵), feelingly played by Dani Espasa :

On the drive out of town, to the orphanage, there is the return of what is most easily characterized as the sadness-tinged theme of the title-music, except that – above sounds of what resembles cembalon or zither, but may well actually be that of a domra⁶ [the link is to YouTube (@YouTube)] – we hear how it is opening out into euphoria, led by violin (María Roca), but then through the accordion-playing of Josep Vila Campabadal.

In all of these deep changes and sometimes difficult plunges in the feelings, we are with – but fearful for (as we are for Nora Navas, as Geni, in Tots volem el millor per a ella [We All Want What's Best For Her]) – Natàlia and Dani, and whether what they want will heal them ; or harm them. What takes place with Bill Murray, or Scarlett Johansson, in Lost in Translation, is still a long way from being wholly dissimilar, as to cultures 'clashing', but the drama is somehow more akin to that within hearing what befalls the The Holy Family in Egypt (or Bethlehem)...

There are two scheduled screenings of L’adopció (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 8.45 p.m.

* Tuesday 25 October at 12.00 noon

* * * * *

The other four films in this Festival's Camera Catalonia are also warmly commended (the link is to the strand's own #CamFF page) - other previews to come very soon... but meanwhile there is :

End-notes :

¹ The Gospel According to Matthew 1:18-2:12 (link to the text at Bible Gateway (New International Version)) – also the basis of a masterpiece of film-making by Pasolini, Il vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Matthew) (1964)).

² Mar Coll was the guest of Ramon Lamarca, who has now curated Camera Catalonia for five years running at Cambridge Film Festival (alongside his interests in 3-D and / or Retro cinema), for two Q&A sessions after screenings of her film at the Festival.

Ramon Lamarca and Mar Coll at Festival Central - image courtesy of Tom Catchesides

³ The first of several repetitions (and questions of who can follow the words of whom), which are a small hint at Lost in Translation (2003), but, except on the surface, this film goes on to speak of quite different experiences, and in its deepest moments.

⁴ This year, Camera Catalonia contains Sex, Maracas & Chihuahuas (Sexo, maracas y chihuahuas [a link to the film's IMDb page]) (2016), a documentary about 'the incredible life of the musician Xavier Cugat'. From Cugat’s era, by contrast with now, we may have heard accounts of how Gilda (1946) was put together ‘along the way’, or seen how the zaniness of Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby (1938) also provides evidence of his (in studio terms) ‘unconventional’ methods of developing the film on set.

For his talk during Cary Grant Comes Home For The Weekend Festival 2016 (@carycomeshome), Mark Glancy looked into some of the film's documentary and other sources from the production, gleaned from researches at RKO.

⁵ From Vol. 1 (Sz. 42, BB 53), seven or eight pieces from a set of eighty-five, written for those studying the pianoforte. (Unlike Mikrokosmos, Sz. 107, BB 105, which is probably more famous, these are not graded exercises, and the pieces are not technically very difficult.) Plus we significantly hear the Allegro molto e mesto [played on YouTube (@YouTube) by The Matangi Quartet] from Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1 (the set of three that are together often called ‘the Razumovsky quartets’).

⁶ As is hardly unusual with IMDb (@IMDb), the instrumentalists, or their instruments, are imperfectly credited in listing the ‘Music Department’, because Eduard Iniesta does not, according to L’adopció’s (Awaiting’s) closing credits, just play guitar (guitarra), but bouzouki and domra as well, which are listed first… (One could describe the domra [the link is to YouTube] as related to the lute, but from Russia, and with three or four metal strings.)

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

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

You say that, because you’ve been here for a while ~ Rose

This is a review of La Plaga (The Plague) (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

25 February

This is a review of La Plaga (The Plague) (2013), seen at a press-screening at The Institute of Contemporary Art (@ICA) in advance of its series
Catalan Avant-Garde

The season opens on 28 February 2015, and, with La Plaga screening on Tuesday 27 October, runs until Friday 18 December, the full programme being (all screenings at 8.50 p.m.) :

Saturday 28 February
Sobre La Marxa (The Creator of the Jungle) (2013) followed by a Q&A with director Jordi Morató

Tuesday 28 April
El Cafè de la Marina (The Marina Café) (2014) followed by a Q&A with director Sílvia Munt

Friday 26 June
Tots volem el millor per a ella (We All Want What's Best for Her) (2013)

Friday 28 August
Born (2014) followed by a Q&A with director Claudio Zulián

Tuesday 27 October
La Plaga (The Plague) (2013)

Friday 18 December
El cant dels Ocells (Birdsong) (2008) followed by a Q&A with director Albert Serra

The physicality of La Plaga (The Plague) (2013) is evident before the first frame is seen, there in the sound of what could – emerging from a blacked-out screen – have been energetic sex, but is another form of exercising, Iurie* wrestling in a practice session at the gym.

In fact, the notion of the tactile, or the substantiveness of matter and of action, could easily be perceived as the theme around which this film is built – and, on the natural-world side, we are (perhaps inevitably) reminded of Terrence Malick, with (in another era) undertones of The Book of Exodus and Old Testament judgement in Days of Heaven (1978) (or even, before that, in Ingmarssönerna (Sons of Ingmar) (1919))…

However, not least as this is in ICA’s series of films, grouped under the heading Catalan Avant-Garde, it is arguable that the film also, and more subtly, meditates on the nature of choices, whether or not our own : some of them do not always prove to leave us where we expected to be, but, in retrospect, we can still very clearly trace them back to where we started**. It is probably universal to experience the feeling that we have striven to get somewhere (or have been propelled towards it), and almost everyone in this film not only says states what his or her story is, but also has to address it in some way.

This state of knowing why we are where we are is by contrast with our casual, everyday decision-making, where we might easily have forgotten our motivation (or the impulse for change) – much as we might have discarded our rough working for a plan, or a calculation. Here, our original aspiration, what it was all for, has not been submerged, so, if asked to account for living in (or not living in) X, we can frequently say straightforwardly that we moved to this house, took this job, because of Y. Here, all the principal figures know why they are where we see them, even if that explanation no longer really works as a sufficient one for why they have to remain, or choose to remain.

On this level, one is reminded more than a little of another Catalan film in this series, which screened twice (both times with Q&As) at Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (@camfilmfest / #CamFF) : Tots volem el millor per a ella (We All Want What’s Best for Her) (2013). That said, director and co-writer Mar Coll comes at this question differently, and thus it is not from a choice that leads us elsewhere, but from other people’s expectations after a serious accident***. Here, Geni (wonderfully played by Nora Navas) is in the position of finding her relations to her life, her family, her job, her friends all in transition, because she desires what people want for her, but there are things about her now that they do not realize – or will not acknowledge : by contrast, La Plaga has several people on the verge of the unforeseen consequences of their actions, and of the plans that lay behind them.

A closer reference than that in Tots volem, although that film’s intense connection with the experience of the linked issues of physical and mental disability assuredly takes it out of the mainstream, is with the even more experimental film Sieniawka (2013), which also screened twice (with Q&As) at Cambridge (in 2013). The connection is largely in the blurring between acting and footage originally taken for pure (sic ?) documentary purposes, because we emerge from the unexplained happenings outside of a psychiatric institution, whose name (taken from its location) gives the film its title, to quiet, often almost painfully drawn-out sequences in it, before the film finally takes us out again :

One would have to be uncertain about calling Sieniawka a documentary, even in its long central part (where – one is told – it was filmed as it is seen), but one is likewise uncertain about what is captured, what re-created, in La Plaga. The distinction that one could perhaps draw is that it is of far less consequence, in the latter case, which is which****. Likewise because the performances / characters (as themselves), in particular, of Maria Ros and Rosemarie Abella are so strong, one feels for what is happening between them when one is in the care of the other, and more poignantly, since, as Rose tells Maria, neither really had wanted to be where necessity has taken them.

The film appears to unfold essentially chronologically, and some developments (though they are not always explained, not even later on) are shown in a sequential manner. However, it often enough floats free of requiring a structure – for those who watch a film such as Amour*** (2012), and do not desire everything to be spelt out, it will pose no obstacles. None, that is, beyond those of relaxing into trusting one’s intuition, and of learning not to concentrate too much on the detail of some screen-time activity or specificity (e.g. wrestling, or dancing) :

For the more that, at such moments, one observes La Plaga in what seem its intended broad terms (and filters out what is extraneous to the scene), the less one may pose oneself a great effort for low yield. That may sound like a quite negative comment, but it is the truest way to watch kindred types of film to this one, such as Sacro GRA (2013) – with, also, its placing of the rural in relation to the urban (and hints of Aesop’s Fables, with that of ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse’ ?) – or Leviathan (2012), or Samsara (2011).

In essence, then, one could regard these films as long narrative poems, rather than sonnets, which one can hear in under a minute (and almost mentally analyse as they are being read). For that reason, they need to be taken in, as a whole, and without anxiety about, or over-attention to, the content (save in relation to its place in the general form) – for some, perhaps a different way of watching, and of being with, a film ?


* Iurie’s name, in a sans-serif typeface, looks as if it begins with a lower-case ‘l’, and he was playing [a version of] himself. (Not that it matters much to an appreciation of the film, but so was everyone.)

** Quite a difficult read, in Samuel Beckettt’s canon from the early 1960s, but maybe one is reminded, in all this, of the schema of his Comment c’est (which Beckettt translated into English from the original French as How It Is) ?

*** I.e. that one can climb back and resume one’s life, and that, if one can, one should. In Amour (2012), Michael Haneke directs Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant in giving us the life after another (less clearcut ?) medical emergency, and, likewise, we have the hard kind of choices that Nora Navas (Geni) is seen making, under Mar Coll’s direction, in Tots volem.

**** The extent to which Sieniawka feels exploitative is one of the topics handled in the Festival review.

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