Houses in Motion

in 67th Valladolid International Film Festival

by Jean-Max Méjean

Neither Gaston Bachelard nor the screenwriter of The Little House on the Prairie, Blanche Hanalis, was mistaken: a house is important for human beings; it is what shelters them and makes them dream. For Bachelard, as he writes in The Poetics of Space, “(…) the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for man’s thoughts, memories, and dreams. In this integration, the binding principle is reverie.” The cinema, which is itself a “dream factory,” was also—at least until the arrival of Covid—a house which allowed a double protection against reality by offering dreams often crazy, sometimes frightening, but always strong and striking. The Cinema House and the World is also the title of a collection of texts by canonical French film critic Serge Daney. The title of the two volumes opposes the closed notion of cinema as house and the world as aggressive exterior.

During the 67th edition of the Valladolid Film Festival, the house is not forgotten, whether in the films of the official selection or in the other sections. We will only give a few examples so as not to be too tedious, just enough to from them draw lessons in cinema, of course, and in daydreaming, too. The house protects, as we have just said, but it can also be distressing. Thus, we can oppose the almost abandoned, disorderly house of the child left alone in Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s Beautiful Beings to that of Colm Bairéad’s The Quiet Girl, where the beauty, order, and cleanliness that reign bestow confidence upon the little girl who suffers from her mother’s harshness and indifference. As far as order and rigour are concerned, we also think of the apartment in Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave, which represents precisely the opposite of appeasement. As for the apartment in Mikhaël Hers’ Passengers of the Night (Passagers de la nuit), it is located in the ultra-modern district of Paris’ Beaugrenell and offers the characters bruised by life a haven of peace. Even though people may say that houses and apartments are everywhere, cinema seems to want to visit them because they are man’s conchological shelter and, since the time of the caves, he loves curling up in his home like a snail.

The protagonist of Felix Viscarret’s No mires a los ojos accidentally locks himself in a wardrobe, which will become his second home within a house. The house in the cinema is polysemic and that is why during location scouting, producers and decorators are very attentive to detail. A house shelters, but it can also confine, frighten, and annihilate, and we see it as such in Cristèle Alves Meira’s very promising Alma viva, which speaks about death and cemeteries. For Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk’s Pamfir, there is a beautiful contrast between the Ukrainian house that functions as a cocoon in the cold and the vast warehouses of violence and corruption. We also find this theme in the house that director Jafar Panahi rents in No Bears, a film about exile, a house that will be constantly threatened by visits from aggressive or quarrelsome people.

To end this inventory, we offer two examples that provide a powerful illustration of what we have tried to describe about the house in the cinema. Two films in competition complement each other at this level, stories of men who want to build houses to take refuge in, to love and feel at peace. In one, Li Ruijun’s sublime and quasi-biblical Return to Dust, the man builds his house by making the adobe bricks with his hands, a house which will be destroyed by an indiscrimiate bureaucracy. In the other film, Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s very beautiful The Eight Mountains (Le otto montagne), two friends build together a small house in the mountains which will be destroyed by indifference and incommunicability, two poisons that gnaw at the soul. And in this parade of houses remains standing the one of a man and his wife, united by love and their workshop, where they keep sewing until death in Maryam Touzani’s The Blue Caftan (Le Bleu du Caftan). Just so, we can hear the song Toi, mon toit, by Elli Medeiros, an French Uruguayan singer.

Jean-Max Méjean
Edited by José Teodoro