04 juin 2006

Fantasma (2006/Alonso)

Fantasma (2006/Lisandro Alonso/Netherlands/France/Argentina) +++
Opening Sequence : Long stationary shot in front of a shoe-repair shop window pane, inside Vargas awaits, one shoe in hand, his nose stuck to the glass. Cut to pitch black. Saturated electric guitar soundtrack for a couple of minutes in the dark. Cut to wide shot of an immense hall after a ceremony with empty glasses on the tables. Vargas slowly wanders around searching his way to the
main entrance downstairs. There, a poster of Los Muertos. The title, Fantasma, red on black slate, will only be intercut later.
A succession of long plan sequence, immobile or moving really slowly. Characters err along the neon-lit corridors, stairs and elevators. Nobody notices. Endless accumulation of levels and rooms. Marble walls. Carpet. Cement. Steel doors. Distant camera dwarfing onscreen people by the huge scale of the building. Silence. Or more precisely, impersceptible murmur from a waking city outside. This steady viewpoint captures the immensity of solitude and the absence of time.
We realize after a while Vargas has never been in a cinema theatre before and was invited to attend a projection of his film. He visits the premises halfway from awe to circumspection, like a child in a strange place. Not quite as familiar as his home jungle, although unrushed and never worried of getting lost or wasting time, two precious things in city life.

Finally the film is projected for only three people. Vargas, the housekeeper, and a young woman working in the building (secretary or PR). We see Los Muertos' oniric opening scene from behind Vargas discovering the film for the first time. Series of reaction shots of Vargas' face, equally impassible yet fascinated. The full screen projection takes us entirely into another film for a moment as the country nature fills the screen. Like an echoe of Vargas and Alonso's interest inside the multiplex. Like a shameless plug to his previous work.
Argentino Vargas, 56 yold, was the single protagonist of Lisandro Alonso's second feature film Los Muertos (2004), a somptuous wordless contemplative journey through the watery forest of Argentine's back country. Misael Saavedra was the lumberjack in La Libertad (2001), which I haven't seen yet.
Both are non-professional first-time actors from a countryside far away from Buenos Aires. The capital city is summarized here by the Teatro San Martin, the only location the film visits during an hour, a concert Hall multiplex of labyrintine architecture. We could see there a dichotomy opposing rural and urban, ancestral forest tradition and cold city anonymity, the personal and the industrial, and even, why not, Alonso's lonely Avant Garde cinema and the indifferent commercial mainstream industry.

Tsai Ming-Liang's Good Bye, Dragon Inn (2003) comes to mind immediately. Is it a conscious homage? a filmic response? Likewise, speachless characters err in an empty auditorium while a film (not one of Tsai's in this case) is projected on a huge screen. Tsai's film inspires nostalgia and admiration for this old theatre about to shut down, pertaining to a forgotten era. Whereas Fantasma feels indifferent for this lifeless multiplex, and its extensive bewildered visit of a displaced person would rather translate a critique of what represents the place.

His actors are alienated in Buenos Aires, and nobody shows up at the premiere. Quite a paradoxal picture for what is the popular culture of instant screen celebrity, Star System or 15-min fame on real TV.
What does suggest this thinly veiled allegory? Maybe the filmmaker shares with his protagonists the sentiment of not belonging there, in the official establishment of culture venues and movie business. They are more comfortable with simple people in the pampa. So the Buenos Aires audience was alienated by La Libertad and Los Muertos, so their very protagonists feel equally unwelcomed once brought to this unfriendly city, like images of remote locations were brought all the way to urban movie theatres.
Is it a complaint that his cinema is ignored by his own people? A complaint that might only be heard by festival crowds and passionate cinephiles though. Kaurismaki echoed this fatalistic grief by giving a surrealist press conference (Cannes 2006) with absurd answers, conscious nobody cares about the exploration of boredom in his art.
Abstracted wordless scenes. Plotless narration essentially carried by images. Careful sense of pace. Tangible appropriation of time. Maybe his Mexican neighbor Carlos Reygadas would share similar concerns about filmcraft. I could only compare this cinema to Apichatpong Weerasethakul from Thailand or Tsai Ming-liang from Taiwan, much less to the other filmmakers of Argentine's Nuevo Cine. As if the new generations of truly creative auteurs formed today beyond the outdated idea of "national cinema" confined by geographical bounderies.
* * *
Lisandro Alonso introduced briefly the projection. This film closes a trilogy, a urban and indoor installment mirroring the first two rural and open air films, apparently to move on towards something different... Arranging a meeting of their lives with his "actors" in the city : a way of thanking them for the critical recognition he received. His next project will take place in Tierra del Fuego, another remote region of Argentina, the utter south of inhabited land on the globe, again with simple, taciturn non-actors.
Despite the unanimous applause of an half-full auditorium at the end, the final Q & A was timed out unfortunately. It's a shame I wasn't bold enough to ask him a few questions in the street... I admit it took me some time to begin making sense of the experience.
Special Screening, off competition, at La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Directors' Fortnight), Cannes 2006.
(s) ++ (w) ++ (m) +++ (i) +++ (c) ++++

7 commentaires:

acquarello a dit…

Fascinating! Your review does make it sound like Goodbye Dragon Inn, except that instead of time being the "removing" (alienating) element, it's Vargas' own "strangerness" to the cinema (and to the general public) that's the element. The plot about no one showing up for the screening sounds very Dragon Inn-ish as well, where the only people in the revival house were the actors from the original film, and a Japanese tourist looking to hook up.

I do like this idea of alien landscape in a familiar place that Alonso does, like in Los Muertos, where everything is mundane, yet the way he moves and places his camera itself becomes a kind of re-synthesis for what is seen and what registers in our consciousness.

I tend to agree with your open question about native cinema being ignored in one's own country though, not just in Argentina but everywhere. Part of it is the exoticism, but there's also the overfamiliarity with the narrative "coding" of the native cinema, but when a director tries to subvert this coding, then it risks becoming too alien (and alienating) for native viewers. That intersection of pushing the bounds of acceptable familiarity and crossing it is a fairly thin one.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Thanks for the visit acquarello.
I'd really like to know about the Good Bye, Dragon Inn reference.

The empty theatre was quite subtle, cause it could have been a private screening. But afterward there is a cynical scene, where the PR city girl thanks the taciturn actor Vargas with banalities such as "I like a lot when you're on the river" and he replies "yes we stay a long time on the river".
According to Alonso, the real life reaction of Vargas after seeing the film was "It's a bit long..." :) Which Alonso explained by the fact he couldn't have a distanciated look on his own life.
And this is exactly what you say about exoticism and overfamiliarity.

HarryTuttle a dit…

By the way, La Cinémathèque was on strike (!) yesterday so I couldn't see the films from the Cannes Critics' Week... but it left me the opportunity to attend instead the (conflicting) screening of 5 shorts of Johan van der Keuken. ;)
The full retrospective is almost over now, and I didn't see everything. What an ungrateful and unwise cinephile I make!
Anyway, Aurélien PY, young author of a book on Amsterdam Global Village was there to discuss the shorts. Interesting cine-club exchange about JvdK's style evolution from non-narrative photo-journalism to formalism to narrative documentary to formalism again.

Also meant to ask you about your review of The Mask. It wasn't on this retrospective and not on the short IMDb list either... Maybe it's just the English title that threw me away.

acquarello a dit…

Ah, private screening, there's another dimension, like truth as fiction as truth or something convoluted like that.

By the way, I just looked at the JvdK schedule that you linked to at Girish's and you're right, it's not there. I'm positive that this was a French only title too (Le Masque), not Dutch with French translation, because he interviews in French and it takes place in France. It's about 50-55 min. long so it's technically a feature film. And yes, it's missing from his IMDB filmography as well.

So, did you get a chance to see Amsterdam Global Village? That's one I need to sit through again, it's a bit of an endurance test and all I remember is this long motorcycle ride. :)

Of the shorts, the one that I remember best is La question sans réponse with the morphing shadows of the man and woman, and also Beauty, with the weird sci-fi theme. The Lubert series was pretty interesting too.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Well the schedule spanned from march to june.

No I missed Amsterdam Global Village (conflicting with Aerograd), and missed also Time/work and a conference on JvdK, conflicting with the Cannes films last week... The problem of non-repeat screenings makes DVDs precious I guess.


The shorts last night were :
- For The Time Being (his last work, first part of an experimental trilogy on The Cantic of Cantics)
- Sarajevo Film Festival Film (that you recommended at Girish's I believe) really powerful. Maybe I will elaborate on this one.
- Amsterdam Afterbeat (outtakes from Amsterdam Global village) backstage filmmaking and a gimmick become fascinating.
- On Animal Locomotion (Experimental study of cinema motion with an old mechanical Bolex camera) really interesting!
- One minute of Silence (a montage of street scenes from Amsterdam during a commemorative minute of silence against nuclear in the 60ies)

This weekend I could catch Vacances Prolongées, To Sang Fotostudio, Vivre avec les yeux, Derniers mots - Ma soeur Joke, Derniers mots. What do you think of these?

acquarello a dit…

I can recommend To Sang Fotostudio and definitely Derniers mots - Ma soeur Joke, Derniers mots. To Sang is almost an expansion of the idea of Amsterdam as a global village, where he follows an ethnic Chinese photographer at his Amsterdam studio and observes his aesthetic for making studio portraits. Dernier mots is an elegy for his sister who died of cancer. It consists of his final "interview project" with his sister, then he looks back to their first collaboration, almost as if erasing the ravages of her illness. It's quite touching.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Well, finally I couldn't make any of those. :(
But thanks to your earlier essays on JvdK, I did check out a few of his films that I would probably passed otherwise. This retrospective was held at a Museum of Photography, so not the schedule I keep an eye on.

His work is really interesting, I hope I get another chance later to catch up.

It's not always aesthetically polished like I'd like to, but I guess this rough image is part of his artistic intentions. And his camera says a lot about the POV of a documentary on the world.