"Shakespeare and Victor Hugo's Intimacies": Intimacies of Fact and Fiction By Ronald Bergan

in 23rd Fribourg International Film Festival

by Ronald Bergan

The fact that Yulene Olaizola’s Shakespeare and Victor Hugo’s Intimacies (Intimidades de Shakespeare y Victor Hugo) was awarded a FIPRESCI prize almost exactly a year ago in Mexico City, and again by our jury in Fribourg, shows how much good taste FIPRESCI juries have. Frankly, if we could have awarded the prize to another film, we would have done so to allow someone else to benefit from the prize. However, there was no other film in the competition that gained our unanimous approval.

Perhaps if one judged a film merely on its title, then Intimacies would have won easily, although it might disappoint those expecting a literary subject. In fact, it refers banally to a house in Mexico City at the corner of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo streets. Yet the film does suggest a mixed literary heritage — the cross-dressing in Shakespeare, the romance in Hugo, the mystery in Poe — mainly, however, it brings to mind a short story by Borges.

But wait… we are dealing with a film that is categorised as a documentary. It has all the attributes of a documentary. The director, voice-off and off camera, is interviewing her grandmother, her grandmother’s long-serving maid and various other people in order to construct a portrait of a young man who once lived in the house at the corner of…

Who was this young man? What was his relationship with women and men? Was he homosexual? Where did he go at night? Was he a serial killer? The film expounds the notion that truth is stranger than fiction. But is it truth? Even though the interviewees are aware of the video camera and recognise it — unlike in some documentaries where the people being filmed pretend the camera does not exist — they could be mythologizing. And the way Olaizola builds the story and puts it together makes one wonder if she was distorting the truth somewhat. But is not a documentary a fiction that dare not speak its name? This has been acknowledged fairly recently by film festivals where the line between fiction features and documentaries has almost disappeared. Films, regardless of the genre, be they animation or docs, compete side by side. Even distributors are beginning to accept that “a film is a film is a film”.

What is fascinating about Intimacies is the tension it creates between fact and fiction. Despite the still attractive, articulate and rather eccentric elderly grandmother dominating the screen, the most interesting character in the film is absent. Jorge Rios, the young man with whom the grandmother carried out a platonic love affair, remains an intriguing conundrum. We hear his voice on the soundtrack, we hear him singing his own sensual songs in a fine baritone, we see his excellent paintings, we are told different tales about him, but the mystery of his being is never solved. The promising 26-year-old director leaves the audience to make up their minds about Rios themselves.