Directors Lounge 2008 • Berlin, february 7-17

Friday, February 8

Opening Night and Two Spanish Shorts

Opening Night and Two Spanish Shorts

Thursday, February 7th: Hi, I'm Sabrina Small, blogger number 2 for the Directors Lounge. Having been in Berlin for only five months I am still fairly awed by the creative capabilities of this city and its independent filmmakers. I grew up in Los Angeles, the polar opposite of free-thinking and free-filmmaking Berlin and until I was about 21, I believed that films were made with famous actors, big studios and lots of wasted money. Ok, I exaggerate because actually, I was lucky enough to take an experimental film class in highschool and I was exposed (my eyes almost fell out of their sockets) to the non-narrative, psychologically profround, whimsical, and aesthetically free world of experimental films. The first  experimental film I ever saw was Moth Light, in fact, and it was playing last night in the foyer of the Director's Lounge, perhaps as a sort of talisman for the films being shown behind the curtain.

Of the films shown last night, I was struck most by the two very different comedies from Spain. Of all the films shown, these two were by far the most traditional in their narrative structure but sometimes it's that which seems familiar that helps us to glimpse how very different these films are from the usual box office fair. In Ciro Altabás's  Made in Japan, (2007, 10 min) the set up is like an old fashioned joke and like all good jokes, the success is in the storytelling.  Here our storyteller is a slightly befuddled everyman with sympathetic bulging eyeballs , who must explain to his extremely ticked off girlfriend why he missed her sister's engagement party. With accelerated voiceover interspersed with bits of dialogue and some of the most economical visual storytelling I've seen recently, we follow the hero of this joke from his mother's mink coat, to the crowded airports and streets of Japan, to a kendo sword fighting competition, as he searches for his'true' father and a way to evade the wrath of his girlfriend. Altabas uses his footage to maximum comic effect, like when the hero departs the plane and is greeted by a crowd of screaming Japanese women. The side angle shot of him coming off the plane gives the viewer just enough of his expression and the blushing embarrassment on his face to make the scene intimate and hilarious. Likewise, the supporting characters are so warmly rendered that you'd almost like to see a film about any one of them as well. They seem so rich and so real. The hero's spanish couch-potato father has a truly sublime and undecipherable bullfighting demonstration with a sheet in the living room that was imaginative in its use of camera angles and very funny indeed. Altabas crams so much into 10 minutes that it leaves you on the one hand, impressed with the compression and amazed by the fullness of the film, and on the other hand, wanting to see about two hours more of whatever he'd like to show you.

In Xavi Sala's La Parabólica (2007, 12 min) the visual world builds up very slowly. There's a hill and some sheep and a man listening to the radio, the sheep herder presumably. Slowly the camera covers the village and the radio or a television broadcast keeps it's presence in every shot. Soon it becomes apparent that we are in Valencia and that the new Pope is visiting the town in his weird little Pope-mobile. There is one man in the town who seems uninterested in this spectacle and as he searches futilely for a Pope-free channel his television reception cuts out and he is forced to confront his broken antenna on the roof of his house. In a screenwriting class I took in college the most important thing we were told was 'show don't tell' and Sala's La Parabolica does a lot of showing. The action is propelled by exactly what happened before and is shifted by whatever happens next. You can almost imagine the story of this film being told at the bedside of a small very-unsleepy child who constantly insists, 'and then what...and then what,' to avoid having to go to sleep. The story is so linear and simple it makes every scene seem somehow more than it is. One man's struggle with his busted antenna becomes a metaphor for dissention from catholicism, the dichotomy of industrialisation and pastoral life in a little Spanish village, the struggle between belief and failure. Just when this man has done everything humanly possible to fix his antenna, it still doesn't work. He makes another in a series of cross village bike rides to get a large bottle of wine and he sits in his small house drinking wine in the dark with the sounds of static hissing from the tv set like some sort of spectral warning to those who think they can champion the gods of industry. Just then a chicken flies into the net of the antenna and the man gesticulates wildly and verbally to get the chicken off his roof. It was only in this moment that I realized the film was more of less silent. Besides the radio/tv broadcasts. Of course the chicken is the miracle and he lands in such a way that the tv recpetion comes back into focus with heightened powers. Suddenly this village man in Valencia is flooded with a veritable orgy of channels and we see with him the good, the bad, the ugly and the more or less indescribable world of televisual imagery.The sound of the channels keep changing as the camera pans out and closes with a bookend of images leading this time from the center of the village back to the hills.

The two films, both Spanish, both comedies, both roughly the same length have such incredibly different speeds or modalities in which they run. Altabas's film feels fast and jaunty while Sala's feels much more contemplative and slow. One is absolutely reliant on dialogue while the other's success is due in large part to the fact that there is no dialogue. But I think what they both share is a very precise sense of characterization and impeccable comedic timing.