The 36th Mar del Plata International Film Festival is presenting these days the two longest feature films of the International Competition, although the sensation that floats in the air at the end of the projections of Who prevents it and What Do We See When We Look at the Sky is that both films could last even longer. The reason, at least in the case of the Madrid’s film Jonah Trueba, is its mixture of documentary and fictional materials strongly rooted in the concept of the passage of time, in an essential stage such as adolescence. Director of The romantic exiles, The reconquest and The virgin of august embarked in 2016 on a long-term project with a group of high school students, at the same time subjects and actors, but essentially motors of a mega story that crosses fragments of real lives with imaginary sequences, reconstructions, testimonies and some other things. At the end of the almost four hours (with two five-minute intermissions “to reflect or go to the bathroom”), the viewer has witnessed so many changes, hopes and also disappointments that the impression of having shared pieces of other people’s lives is impregnated in the mind and in the body.
Who prevents it, recently premiered at the San Sebastian Festival, begins in almost present time, with the covid-19 pandemic in the background: Trueba and a dozen of his “actors” share a screen in a videoconference. The director announces that the film is ready and everyone wonders how much of the filmed material will have been left in the final cut. Cut back to a meeting with alcohol and lots of cigarettes at one of the boys’ house. From that moment on, the reality of the school and private life of the protagonists is intertwined –without many times a clear split is noticed– with sequences created in a collaborative way. Bullying as an evil to face on a daily basis, a visit to the Filmoteca to see a film by Rita Azevedo Gomes, political discussions, the graduates’ trip to Granada, with their exits, new ties and cruel jokes, a first summer romance in the city and in the field.
If up to now Trueba had reflected, to a greater or lesser extent, his own biological age in that of the characters in the movies, Who prevents it returns towards the end of the second decade of life to rethink later stages in a new light. Dedicated to the recently deceased singer-songwriter Rafael Berrio, author of the song that gives the title to the film, the punk spirit of one of his last scenes indicates that the ideals and illusions for a better world can be sustained despite the full awareness of their impossibility.
The guiding spirit of What Do We See When We Look at the Sky, second feature film by Georgian Alexandre Koberidze, is an amalgam between creation and observation. Because although at the beginning of his 150 minutes the prevailing tone is that of the fable, the director quickly begins to pose as many digressions as people, animals and objects appear in front of the camera. The city is Kutaisi, located on both banks of the Rioni River, in the center of the former Soviet Republic. A man and a woman, both in their twenties, happen to meet at the door of a kindergarten and meet again that same night, making an official appointment for the following day.
A voice-over describes the curse that will ensue: in the morning, the bodies, faces, and physical and intellectual abilities of potential lovers (or friends, who knows) will completely mutate, preventing mutual recognition. Full stop, because that kickoff, an authentic narrative excuse, opens up to a whole world: to life in the city and its bars, to a soccer World Cup that never existed (or did exist, but with other results), to a group of canine inhabitants with an awareness of class and personal tastes, a trio of filmmakers in search of partners to star in a film, boys and girls wanting to have an ice cream or play a snack in the square, with a musical background of “ Notti magiche ”, complete and without editions. With weapons of simple and transparent appearance, What Do We See… seems to want to reinvent cinema by returning to its most sensorial origins, but without neglecting the ambitions of cinematic modernity. It is the kind of film in which many viewers would choose to live: deceptively simple, bright, realistic but hopeful, beautiful, capable of enchanting and falling in love. Without a doubt, one of the titles of the year.
Of brief 99 minutes, The girl and the spider, second feature film by the Swiss Ramon Zürcher (The Strange Little Cat) and first from his twin brother Silvan Zürcher, is another one Low-profile, high-performance prodigy. Unlike the expansive competition partners these days in Mar del Plata, here the story is minimal and compact. Two girls who have lived together in the same apartment separate; one of them is moving to another building with a new roommate. The film takes place in fact in those only two environments, over a couple of days and nights, more than enough material for an essay on human relationships – unsatisfied desires, grudges, customs and idiosyncrasies – which makes each detail a universe itself. The trick of the Zürchers, in a film in which there is a lot of dialogue, is the extraordinary acting direction, which makes each gesture and gaze an inexhaustible source of senses, starting with the magnetic German actress Henriette Confurius, whom many viewers will recognize for his central role in the Netflix series Tribes of Europe.
In the tidal wave of moving, with the constant displacement of objects and different people entering and leaving the rooms, a small great drama begins to unfold, which the filmmakers manage to create and transmit precisely, but without neglecting the possibility of An enigma and a bit of eccentricity (there is that “vampire” woman who lives at night and hides in her room during the day), with the participation of a dog and a cat as companions of the humans. The frames – precise, never redundant, well thought out, but not forced at all – are also essential to the creative success of The girl and the spider, which also allows a remarkable dream sequence and the best use of the eighties europop hit “Voyage, Voyage” in the history of cinema.
Who prevents it It will be shown on Monday at 11:15 am at Cinema Los Gallegos 1.
What Do We See When We Look at the Sky is exhibited on Monday at 12 and 21 hours in Auditorium Theater and Tuesday at 11.15 am at Cinema Los Gallegos 1.
The girl and the spider It is exhibited on Monday at 3.30pm and 6.30pm at the Auditorium Theater.
All films will be available online at https://www.mardelplatafilmfest.com from 9:00 p.m. on the first day of its face-to-face exhibition and for 72 hours.