Psychical And Spiritual Look On The Local Region

in 13th Festival or European Cinema, Seville

by Mariola Wiktor

As many as three films from the section ”Reststencias/Resistances” tell their stories, in a very unconventional way, about the multi-dimensional relations of man and nature and the immediate surroundings. As for me, these are films which, due to their hybrid construction breaking the rules of documentary and feature pictures as well as methods of imaging, corresponding to the fullest to the concept of “Resistances” of the 13th Edition of the Seville European Film Festival. By which I mean the cinema unobvious, experimental, documentary and poetic. These are contemplative essays, toying with habits of the audience, and in consequence resisting commercialisation, and remaining outside the mainstream as well as outside the broad distribution system.

These pictures did not emerge out of the void however. They are backed up by a long tradition of niche and oppositional, alternative, independent cinema. In case of the Spanish movies, definitely one of the most important sources is Victor Erice, who created vivid, auteurish cinema drawn from the borders of feature films, film essays and documentaries. And in European cinema we would have to mention trendsetting examples such as Encounters at the End of the World by Werner Herzog, Zum Vergleich by Harun Farocki, or the films of Austrian documentary filmmakers such as Workingman’s Death by Michael Glawogger and Homo Sapiens by Nikolaus Geyrhalter.

It is not an accident, that the protagonist of the film Analisis de Sangre Azul/Analysis of Blue Blood directed by Gabriel Velasquez and Blanca Torres is an Alpinist who is accidentally found in a difficult-to-access valley of the Pyrenees and who has survived an accident but lost his memory. This incident takes place in 1930 and the mysterious man – who due to his different appearance is considered to be the first foreigner in the valley and is dubbed “the Englishman” – is placed in the local psychiatric clinic of Doctor Pedro Martinez. This doctor makes a silent movie about the finding, treating and therapy of the patient which leads to the uncovering of his mystery. Directors Gabriel Velasquez and Blanca Torres found two reels of archival film and utilised them in their picture, adding the subtitles in brackets.

Similarly to Herzog in Encounters at the End of the World, the directing duet quotes archival materials, lending a second dimension to the watched reality. The way of presenting the nature of the Alps connected with the strongly dominating soundtrack in silent frames, gives the impression of drawing closer to the mystery. Documentary cinema, using the archival materials with their black and white rough structure, here becomes a tool to ask questions about the relations between the spiritual existence of a man and the world of nature. In order to understand that relationship, we have to cast aside our superficial mask of civilisation. “The Englishman” doesn’t know who he is; he is like a clear card, he gives in to emotions and instincts and is not afraid to express them. Therefore, he feels unity in being in contact with wild, untamed nature. Lack of memory and learnt behavioural patterns paradoxically have a positive influence on his psyche and the mountains, waterfalls and woods surrounding the clinic of doctor Martinez become the archetypical place of idyllic peace and space for harmonic life in tune with the seasons of the year. The protagonist seems to feel the natural rhythm of life, which evolves, leaves, vanishes (just like he himself, who got lost in the woods never to be seen again) and which will never be repeated again.

An unusual documentary presented in the section of “Resistances”, which also depicts the strong relationship between the physical and spiritual aspect of surroundings’ evolution but this time a landscape of the city and workplace of a man, is Pasaia Bitartean/Pasaia In-Between directed by Irati Gorostidi. This mysterious title refers to the name of a remote port town in the Basque Country situated in a picturesque fjord The town has deteriorated significantly due to the economic crisis and many of its formerly proud buildings are in states of serious degradation which tends to alienate visitors what with its deserted factory halls, port warehouses and handcraft workshops. The town’s regeneration plans are being created, but currently only on paper, thus the term used for Pasaia to describe this transitional space, something “in-between”. Nevertheless, the town still attracts tourists, who are brought here by huge long-line vessels and who take hundreds of photos which commodify the town. It is not an accident, that the scenes with tourists open and close the film. It is we, the audience, who become the mute observers of this world, which barely exists anymore.

This place was created by people: woodworkers, carpenters, mechanics and warehousemen. Their workshops remain empty and neglected. Long takes and static camera shots record the dilapidated walls, rusted machines and this peculiar slow cinema gives the viewer the time to fill that emptiness with their imagination, reminiscent in its silent despair of scenes from Homo Sapiens by Nikolaus Geyrihalter – an apocalyptic picture about what is going to happen with the world when there will be no people with all of their hardships and work. In “Pasaia…”, we will not find that typical Glawogger (Workingman’s Death) impression that hard physical labour deprives the man of his dignity. Quite the contrary – here we see the fragments of films and memories showing the hands of a carpenter who saws and bores the wood. It is almost like Farocki (Zum Vergleich), where he shows the process of making a brick. Here and there, in Farocki’s film as well as in Irati Gorostidi’s picture – there a brick, here the wood – depicting the building materials of civilisation, something that organises our space. But of course, it is not an educational film. The camera is close to the characters or their tools. Such focus on material, timber, makes it become the carrier of meanings. It is a creation of human’s hands and embodies a peculiar rite, a ritual. It is also a critique of modern technologies, which replaced traditional production methods and contributed to the degradation of Pasaia. Houses built with the use of modern technologies are perhaps more beautiful, but seem cold, deprived of soul.

And this is exactly what happened to the protagonist of the next film of the Resistances strand. In the film La Substancia directed by Lluis Galter, an exact replica of the city of Cadaques (famously inhabited by Salvador Dali and lying on the Spanish coast of Costa Brava) is replicated and built by Chinese developers on the coast of the South China Sea. The town might be pretty, picturesque, copied in all the details together with its flora, but deprived of authenticity and lacking soul. It is artificial, it is fake. However, as one of the dwellers of the real Cadaques says in this film, you can buy the body, but never the soul. This film tells the story about the clash of dreams with reality, beauty with ugliness, sophistication with mediocrity. Also the uniqueness of typicality. And here the matter of location returns. Cadaques is situated at the foot of the Pyrenees which picturesquely descend straight to the sea. Therefore it is difficult to reach that place in any other way than by sea. This natural isolation resulted in the fact, that inhabitants of this charming corner of the world not only maintained their Catalonian language, but also a very unique dialect. And this cannot be either counterfeited nor transferred.

Edited by James Evans