Postcard from Gijón: Days 7-9

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My Gijón adventure is now at an end and so I will quickly round up the last few days before checking out of the hotel.

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Thursday saw the second presentation of Transatlantique. I was less nervous this time and I felt that my introduction was a bit more fluid. I interviewed Félix Dufour-Laperrière while the film was screening and then returned for the Q&A. There were film production students in the audience and they asked very different questions to the previous session (most of them seemed to be specialising in sound and it’s an interesting film from that perspective).
Next, myself and Félix – and the other critics participating in Convergencias – went to a radio station to take part in a recording of El séptimo vicio (The Seventh Vice) for RNE3 (Radio Nacional de España 3). Host Javier Tolentino was amused to learn that I have listened to the programme as a podcast on iTunes – he visits a lot of film festivals and talks to interesting filmmakers (especially in terms of the kinds of Spanish films that I like – but the programme covers international cinema, not just Spanish films). The entire episode (they’re usually about 59 minutes long) will be centred on Convergencias, so I will put a link on here when it has been broadcast (you can listen to it online without iTunes). My mind went blank a couple of times (including in response to “Who is your favourite Spanish director?” and in the very last round-up with the group) but overall it wasn’t too bad. UPDATE (29/12/15): the podcast is now online – here – I am mainly in the first section between 04:20-09:21.
The only films I saw that day were shorts in La noche de cortos españoles [The Night of Spanish Shorts] – as I’ve said before, I’m going to write about the shorts as a group later, so I won’t expand any further now except to say that there was real variety in the selection.

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Friday saw the sixth – and final – Convergencias film: The Road (Rana Salem, 2015), chosen by Eduardo Guillot (you can read Eduardo’s text, here). For me, the film seemed quite different to the other Convergencias films (which share some characteristics, although each interprets them differently) although it does make use of sound in an atmospheric way. A road movie of sorts, we see an unnamed couple (played by director Rana Salem and her real-life partner Guy Chartouni) in the aftermath of some kind of unspecified upset – both of them seem distracted and the woman is clearly in an emotionally fragile state – and they set off on a journey from Beirut into the Lebanese countryside. The structure is very fragmented. There are repeated cuts to black (which are held for several seconds at a time) and what are eventually revealed to be flashbacks (the chronology of events isn’t clear until relatively late in the film) that show the two leads in different domestic/familial environments. Eduardo said in his introduction that it’s a film that asks questions of the audience rather than supplying the answers, but I was left a bit nonplussed by it overall.

el-movimiento
Next was El movimiento / The Movement (Benjamín Naishtat, 2015), which screened without subtitles so I’m not going to claim to have followed everything that went on. Set in Argentina in 1835 (by weird coincidence the same year that Aferim! is set) in the aftermath of what the festival catalogue tells me was the emancipation war of the Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata, a fratricidal conflict develops while the new administration settles in. Several armed groups are wandering the Pampa, looking for resources but each also claims to be the legitimate representative of El Movimiento. The leader of one of these groups, known simply as el Señor (Pablo Cedrón), presents himself with the language of idealism and the moral high ground but unleashes hideously violent acts via his henchmen. Shot in black and white, the film is visually very striking – the lighting is very high contrast (it mainly seemed to rely on light sources within the frame), casting jet-black shadows across the numerous close-ups of faces, and at times it looks almost like a painting. The soundtrack is also unusual given the era in which the film takes place because it includes electronic sounds (late in the film, a truck and a motorbike also cross the back of the frame) which build to a low rumbling threat – it becomes quite oppressive. I would watch it again with subtitles – in order to follow the subtleties of the political machinations, which were beyond my Spanish – so hopefully it will make its way to a UK festival.

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I wasn’t feeling well on Friday night, so I didn’t go to any of the later screenings. Therefore the next film for me was on Saturday: Lamb (Yared Zeleke, 2015). The first Ethiopian film to be selected for Cannes, Lamb follows nine-year-old Ephraim (Rediat Amare) after his father leaves him with relatives in the Ahmar Mountains while he seeks work in Addis Abeba. Ephraim’s best friend is Chuni, a sheep who belonged to his late mother. Chuni brings Ephraim into conflict with his new relatives because his uncle wants to slaughter the animal for upcoming festivities – Ephraim begins to concoct an escape plan for him and Chuni to get out of there and either on the road to return to his birthplace (where he has other relatives) or in search of his father. It’s the second Ethiopia-set film I’ve seen this year (the other being Crumbs) and it makes full use of the astounding vistas of the green mountains and the valleys below. Ephraim is a sweet-natured and sensitive protagonist and the film is effectively a coming of age tale. I’m probably going to review it, so I won’t say any more for now (plus I’m trying to get this up before I leave the hotel).

Dead Slow Ahead
I went to the Closing Ceremony (again hosted by Carlos Areces) on Saturday night – the list of award winners can be found here. So the last film of the festival for me was Dead Slow Ahead (Mauro Herce, 2015), a documentary set on a cargo ship and the directorial debut of the director of photography of films such as Arraianos (Eloy Enciso, 2012). There are obvious points of similarity with Transatlantique but the two films are also completely their own things – Dead Slow Ahead puts me in mind of a sci-fi film at certain points with a soundscape that includes a lot of electronic beeping and an alien strangeness to some of its more abstract images and heightened colour palette. I actually watched Dead Slow Ahead on Festival Scope a couple of weeks ago, not realising that it was going to be in Gijón, but it is a completely different experience on the big screen and with surround sound – and it is another very immersive film. It is my intention to write something about the two films together (possibly also including Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, 2013) because it seems to me that it would be impossible not to acknowledge that film in relation to them – although not necessarily ‘an influence’ as such, it’s more that in the eyes of the spectator a connection will be made (if they’ve seen it)), so again I’m not going to expand on the film any further at this juncture (she says, with one eye on the clock).

So that is the end of the Festival Internacional de Cine de Gijón. I will be reviewing some of the films I’ve seen (I haven’t had time to write anything other than these postcards while I’ve been in Spain), I am writing a report on the experimental section for Desistfilm and probably also an overview of Convergencias, and a report on the Spanish shorts for Eye for Film. It will take a while for me to write all of those things (not least because I return to work on Tuesday), but I will link to them on here once they’re online.
I’ll just finish by saying muchísimas gracias a Martín Cuesta y Víctor Paz por invitarme a Gijón como participante en Convergencias – ha sido una gran experiencia y espero que puedo vuelvo para futuras ediciones (y que vemos en otros festivales también).