An Ordinary Killing By Stanislav Ulver

in 56th Donostia-San Sebastian

by Stanislav Ulver

This year’s ‘selección oficial’ could be also called a selection of traditional family values on one side or a selection of well-known names on the other. This certainly doesn’t concern all the films in the international competition, but different kinds of family problems were presented at least in seven of them — and Two-Legged Horse (Asbe du-pa) with children heroes can perhaps be added. Samira Makhmalbaf who is the director of this movie is also one of the most important directors. Another five ones mentioned in the introduction of the San Sebastian catalogue are Kim Ki-duk, Michael Winterbottom, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Daniel Burman and Christophe Honoré. There is no doubt some other names — e.g. Kristian Levring who was one of the co-founders of Danish Dogma 95 — could be mentioned, too.

But let us forget these famous names and the family merits and try to find out why the Prize of the International Film Critics was awarded to Bullet in the Head (Tiro en la cabeza, 2008) made by an ambitious 38-year-old Spanish director Jaime Rosales, whose former films The Hours of the Day (Las horas del día, 2003 — FIPRESCI prize) and Solitary Fragments (La soledad, 2007 — Awarded 3 Goyas: Best film, Best Director and Best Male Discovery) were presented in Cannes.

Bullet in the Head is for several reasons experimental and provocative. It is quite sure from the beginning that to explicate (and understand) this film you should first read a paragraph in the catalogue: “Ion is an apparently normal guy. He gets up in the morning, has breakfast, organises his things and meets with a group of solicitors. He meets a girl at a party one night and they spend the night together in her apartment. His life does not include any special events. A phone call from a phone box; meeting with a friend; simple and unimportant every-day situations. But one day he gets into a car with another two people. They cross the border to France. They spend the night at a couple’s house. The next morning they kill two off-duty civil guards in an accidental encounter at a road coffee bar.” Does this summary explain what the film is really about? This is quite a complicated question. In any case, Rosales is playing a game with vision and sound. The film is as if it were followed through the eye of a random observer, who is interested much more in the ambient world then in the essence of the story that is taking place. We are watching Ion mostly over objects in front of him, we see him behind windows or through a slot. In another case, he is nearly blocked by the head of a woman with whom he is speaking…

Let us then try to ask several other questions. For example, why we practically do not see the driver of the red car? What are these people speaking about? And who is backing up this action? From the dialogue we will learn nothing. They are perhaps even more dangerous than the camera eye and Rosales show. That is the reason why we do not hear the voices of the protagonists, just people talking around them, noises or even nothing at all.

The film is really original and full of conflict — not only because of its content but also because of its form, compared in Spanish press to video art. Jaime Rosales starts his explication of Bullet in the Head with a quotation from Orson Welles: “The purpose of a movie resides, on the other hand, more in the presentation of the problem than the offering of a solution”. But that is not all: the authenticity of this movie, shot mostly in the Basque country, cannot be questioned. On 22nd September 2008 when it was shown in San Sebastian for the first time, there was another assassination by ETA.