Fragments honouring Joaquín Jordà By Floreal Peleato

in 24th Torino Film Festival

by Floreal Peleato

The 24th edition of Turin Film Festival dedicates a timely retrospective homage to Joaquín Jordà, who passed away on 24th June 2006 at the age of 70.

For many years his name was associated with the “ Barcelona school” and with Dante is Not Only Severe (Dante no es únicamente severo) (1967), a film he co-directed with Jacinto Esteva. This film-manifesto was more ambitious than successful and doesn’t do justice to the author’s more important later work. A better example of his work in this earlier period is Away from the Trees (Lejos de los árboles) (1963-1970), which is also included in the program and investigates Spanish rites tinged with both pagan and Christian elements.

One of his best films, The Hunter’s Assignment (El encargo del cazador) (1990), is a polyhedric biographical sketch of his friend Jacinto Esteva, to whom the film is dedicated. In it, Esteva’s proteiform image is allowed to retain its mystery. This film epitomizes Jordà’s works in general in that it is a documentary reflection in which the individual melts into the collective, a theme evident as early as his first short film The Day of the Dead (El día de los muertos) (1961). It shows how people from Madrid travel in numerous groups to a cemetery in the capital to worship the dead at the beginning of November, weaving the paths of the individual mourners into a single human tapestry. And, closing the circle, his last work, the short Urban Chaos (Descontrol urbano) (2006), seeks to describe and understand the meagre living conditions of one man struggling to survive among the multitudes of Barcelona .

A didactic tendency prevails in some of his first films, for example in Portugal a Calm Country (Portogallo, paese tranquillo) (1969), which was shot in a clandestine way, and in Lenin is Alive (Lenin vivo) (1970), both of which were made by request of the Italian Communist party and both of which are rigorous in their ideological perspective. They succeed cinematically because of their skilful editing, which suggests rather than imposes his point of view. In general, the themes of rebellion and injustice have always excited Jordà’s interest; in 1971 he adapted The Iron Heel (Talón de hierro) by Jack London .

Discursive arguments alternate with dialectical ones in Númax presents… (Númax presenta…) (1979), in which Jordà analyses the conditions of self-management of a small company, and in Twenty Years is Nothing (Veinte años no es nada) (2004), where militancy gives way to the celebration of a long-awaited workers’ reunion. Fissures in time, shattered hopes and individual life stories are here more important than abstract declarations.

His films are like necessary and intentionally incomplete mosaics, mysteries that do not always lead to a solution, essays with the contours of a diary. In all of them, especially those at the end of his career, the glance becomes more compassionate in order to establish an affective link with the people whose lives we witness. That compassion is particularly evident in Beyond the Mirror (Más allá del espejo) (2006), where Jordà lets us discover people like him who suffer from agnosia, alexia or blindness (in June, 1997, Jordà suffered a cerebral infarction and gradually recovered his faculties), or in Monkeys as Becky (Monos como Becky) (1999), in which he takes us into a mental institution.

The notions of freedom, truth and justice are questioned in his works and, little by little, human complexity is affirmed and vindicated. As a result, in his films the fragment – script and editing and imagery – expresses the impossibility of knowing the human being as a whole. His works can be subtitled human, too much human, which is the title of a script he co-wrote in 1964 with Elías Querejeta, but never shot.

He made most of his films late in life, while he was in his 60s and 70s, as Spain did not give him the opportunity to work for many years. This retrospective provides a much-needed service as it not only screens his works as director, many of which have never been seen abroad, but also his work as script writer for Vicente Aranda. Moreover, the retrospective includes films about or inspired by Jordà from the Universidad Pompeu Fabre of Barcelona made in the late 90s, such as Isaki Lacuesta’s Cravan versus Cravan (2003) and Marc Recha’s science fiction film Pau and his Brother (Pau y su hermano) (2001).

Jordà employed the Socratic conversation to help prospective directors understand that in cinema, whether documentary or fiction, ideological rigour is more important than beautiful images. He was, for those he inspired, according to Xavier Pérez, an “exceptional mediator.”

This retrospective homage has been supplemented by the publication of a book, carefully edited by Nuria Vidal, which provides a survey of Jordà’s works and of his cinematographic and political convictions through interviews with and testimonials from people who knew him well. It’s a must for those who want to know more about the director.

It is not surprising that Turin has featured such an event because Italy was Jordà’s second home after a trip he made to Sardinia in the late 60s; afterwards he settled down in Rome for some years. You can read all about that in the book’s testimonials by Goffredo Fofi, Edoardo Bruno and Roberto Silvestri.