The Cosmopolitan Vulnerability

in 53rd Gijón International Film Festival

by Jose Ramon Otero Roko

There are at least two different ways of watching a film – physically, spatially. For those who travel the world and witness the emergence of new cinematic work (authors, critics), the host city lies outside the cinema; this city is half of the reality that unfolds before and after that other reality, which the screen strives to produce. At the same time, for those who watch films in the place where they live, this antechamber is part of their metropolis, a fraction of the reality that takes place inside their city. This is precisely what Hong Sang-soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then (Jigeumeun-matgo-geuddaneun-tteullida, South Korea) talks about: how films are part of the world, how they inwardly keep with them a part of the latter; and, to the contrary, how this world hardly saves any space for them.

The action takes place in a large city, situated far from the capital, where a filmmaker is about to present one of his works to a small audience. The journey has certainly got an objective, and the space of the screening is very likely to be one of a somewhat harmonious solitude. But then a woman artist appears and ends up displacing the original motivation that took the filmmaker there. The city belongs to her, as well as every moment and opportunity, except that of the film screening (since she represents the task which is constantly being performed) and the time which has already been lived.

Anyone who contemplates an image is placed on a certain topology, which is the same as that traversed by those who roam around the city before and after it is etched on to their minds. The film has its own geography, which is different to that of the place where the projection takes place, the latter being supplementary for the spectator and subordinated during several minutes. Nevertheless, life is not a structure as perfect as an audiovisual story, but it is effectively true and accomplished. In fact, this is exactly where the extraordinary turnaround lies in Hong Sang-soo’s film, that is, in showing that reality provides at least two possibilities, two different ways in which that encounter may happen and develop. Thus, films prove to be more realistic when they offer both possibilities as equally probable, true, and conceivable. Like an unfortunate love and a non-consummated one. Like a love affair that ends up being erratic and another that turns into cowardice. Like a story that, in one way or another, simply ends.

The different sensations triggered by the South Korean film were not equalled by the other films in competition. Hong turns imperfection into his central theme and that perspective, which is the exact opposite of the epic genre, makes it difficult for the film to be regarded as a masterpiece. At least, as long as we are used to exclusively relate the concept of beauty with non-ambiguity and non-questionability. Its structure may be considered universal for those who move from one place to another and stay for a short time in each place. But beyond this, its context, which refers to the film world, may not turn out to be so special for those who are unfamiliar with those idle times surrounding a story that concludes and begins. Temporariness makes us vulnerable; the dwellings where nomads take shelter are fragile.

The Critics’ Prize went to the Moroccan film Much Loved by Nabil Ayouch, a French co-production supported by the Cannes Film Festival. The film sparked much controversy in its home country when it was presented only a few months ago, and arrived in Gijón in the hope of finding audience solidarity. Its aesthetic approach is conventional, and there is nothing remarkable as regards the expertise on which the film has been built. However, its ethical proposal is very brave: the story of a group of prostitutes in Marrakesh’s “dolce vita” and their relationships through sex, alcohol and drugs within a confessional society which turns out to be lustful. On the whole, it is the context that makes the film more valuable than its objective cinematographic weight.

The context is an element that could also be applied, although to its detriment, to Taklub by the much-awarded Filipino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza. The film was financed by the government of Mendoza’s home country, which initially proposed a documentary about the humanitarian disaster caused by the typhoon Yolanda. Finally, it was agreed that the film would be made as a work of fiction which – perhaps because it was commissioned – overlooks the gross negligence on the part of the State regarding assistance for the victims. On the one hand, the story hides the political responsibility of the authorities, while on the other, it focuses on a solidary (but unconscious) and good (but ignorant) people who must accept adversity as a predicament rather than stigmatisation. Both the solvency and quality of the filmmaker’s work and the actors’ performances go to waste since they are placed at the service of a convenient product that suits the oligarchy established on the islands.

Edited by Birgit Beumers