New Dramatic Structures By Andrei Plakhov

in 53rd San Sebastian International Film Festival

by Andrei Plakhov

Since Mystery Train by Jim Jarmusch and Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino so-called “new dramatic structure” has established itself as an element of modern cinema. It has nothing to do with the Nouvelle Vague drama or cinéma vérité and, on the other hand, is far away from the traditional cult of the “perfect story”. Many different stories intersect in this new type of film, and instead of “parallel montage” of simultaneous events or primitive “flashbacks” we are facing a completely alternative coordination approach.

Let’s take a few examples from the San Sebastian competition program. The Spanish film Sud express by Chema de la Peña and Gabriel Velázquez exposes a panorama of people’s lives built-up around the train that links Paris with Lisbon. The events don’t follow chronological order. For instance, firstly we can see the Portuguese wife of a xenophobic Parisian taxi driver, who is going to take the train and visit her girlfriend in Spain. Then we are getting involved in the living problems of a Portuguese looser: he writes a letter to a woman from his past asking her to take the train to Irun and meet him there as “the last chance”. It takes time for the spectator to realize that the driver’s wife is nobody else but this woman: she does not go to see her girlfriend but to a rewarding love encounter.

Another Spanish movie Hard Times (Malas temporadas) by Manuel Martín Cuenca deals with three slightly intersecting stories. Ana works in an aid office for refugees and does not know what to do with her teenage son whom has decided to lock himself in his bedroom. Ana’s Cuban client is a neighbor of an ex-convict, obsessed with chess and with his former inmate-lover. Ana asks the Cuban to help her with her son, and he brings a chess teacher – just to change the boy’s living orientation. We can guess the teacher could change his sexual orientation as well, but this is a “wrong sign” typical for the new dramaturgy. Stories intersect in one point but then go far away from each other.

More conventional is the structure of Something like Happiness (Stestí) by Czech director Bohdan Slama who received the “Golden Shell” – the main prize of the festival. At least all the heroes of the film inhabit the same building and belong to the same community. But here we can also feel the spirit of the new dramaturgy – by the way, partly anticipated by Czech-Slovak New Wave of the 60s. Of course there is another, not so gentle source of new plot constructions – the soap opera. So, there is no evil without good, as the Russian proverb says.