10, 000 km

10,000km is the story of Alex and Sergi who embark on a year-long long distance relationship between Barcelona and Los Angeles. Alex gets the chance at a residency in LA which would be huge for her photography career. They stay in touch online but the distance proves a challenge.

From the first I wanna say that for me, distance isn’t so much this couple’s problem as it is Sergi’s ego. Alex gets the email that she has this brilliant opportunity, advancing her career and following her passion, and Sergi’s reaction is to sulk. He was quite happy when their plan was for Alex to be pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen. The idea she might want anything other than that, or that their relationship might be about more than just giving him the life he wants, feels like a personal attack for him. He huffs and pouts and threatens to storm out until she agrees not to go.

The only hope for the character is, that he feels so ashamed of behaving like a spoilt manchild, that he relents and encourages her to go in the end. Alex spends so much time placating him, reassuring him that this will only be for a year, and she won’t let her life’s dreams get in the way of his rescheduled baby timeline, that they never have a real, open conversation about what they want for their lives, and what they’re willing to sacrifice.

There are so many conversations in this film, but such meagre communication. I guess that’s the whole point. They can Skype each other from across the world, but they can’t make themselves understood by the person they love. Sergi sees Alex’s success as a betrayal, especially when he is less so. As her project comes into focus, he becomes more and more aimless and lost.

The wide open goal is, why doesn’t he go to Los Angeles with her? Yeah, his English is limited, but it’s not like they don’t speak Spanish there. Also he could learn. Alex is British and she’s managing to get by in his language, living in his city, why is it too much to ask the same of him? Also, he’s a teacher, a job you can literally do in any corner of the world. Why would you not just go with her?

He hits the nail on the head when she asks him to do just that, and he says, “What? And be a house-husband?” It’s his own macho bullshit that is getting in the way of his happiness. What he asks of her, he would never do himself. He would never make the same sacrifices. And it’s to his own detriment, coz otherwise this could have been 2 hours of him getting laid in sunny LA.

Still, he is a really interesting character, watching him indulge and then resist his flaws by turns. He’s sympathetic despite his toxic masculinity because he does try, and because he does suffer, and he does feel shame at his own acts of self-sabotage.

He’s played by delightfully scrummy David Verdaguer, who is in The Days To Come, which is also about a year in which a relationship is put through the wringer. He’s just excellent, managing to hold these two-person character studies with almost no external characters impinging on this tight binary orbit.

The lassie he plays against, Natalie Tena, is also great. I spent the longest time looking at her face, like, I know you, I’ve seen you somewhere. Unable to place her, I finally Googled it after the film. She’s fucking Osha in Game of Thrones. How did I not see that?

Anyway, great film. Tense, wrenching, emotional drama.

The Days To Come

The Days To Come follows the pregnancy of Virginia, and its impact on her relationship with her partner Luis.

Vir gets accidentally knocked up, and her and Luis have to sit down and decide what to do about it. Despite it not being maybe the ideal time, they are in a loving relationship and decide to bring the pregnancy to term. But will the stresses of money, employment, major life changes, major body changes, and societal expectation prove too much for them as a couple? Is this all a terrible idea?

Gotta say, I know that this is a very touching, moving depiction of the maternal and paternal emotional journey, but every moment of this just confirmed I will never have kids. IT’S NOT NATURAL. The film shows explicitly a vaginal and caearean birth. Boke, boke, boke, boke, boke. People crawling out from inside you, falling out your hole or through wounds in your abdomen. Eeeh, it gives me a feeling like spiders in your ears.

I find it funny that Vir’s attitude is one of imposter syndrome, like she’s only a pretend adult and this decision is too adult for her. She compares herself to her parents, who are real adults, while she at their age, barely has her shit together. Didn’t really identify, my parents always seemed like they were just doing the best they could with what they had, it never seemed that “together”. Vir’s attitude makes it clear there are advantages to that, as it disabuses you of the notion that there’s some magic moment at which you are ‘ready’ to have a kid.

Both Vir and Luis worry constantly about whether they will be able to be parents. If they will be careful enough, knowledgeable enough, financially stable enough, cohesive in their relationship enough. While their worries are understandable, I wanted to just shake them and say, “The only thing you need to be a parent is the commitment to doing it”. You will never be able to predict what comes tomorrow, or protect your kid from the world, or be some infallible being. You will fuck up and you will fail. The thing that makes you a parent is you keep at it, til your last breath.

Anyways, really engrossing character study of two people going through a major life change and trying to hold their relationship together.

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Armugan

Armugan is, as the subtitle suggests, an end-of-life doula, ushering the dying on their final journey. Learning from him is his apprentice Anchel.

This film has stunning cinematography. It is used to convey the awe with which Armugan regards life, from the fantastic vistas down to the smallest detail.

There is no dialogue for a large part of the film’s opening, and then it is sparse and whispered. Shot in black and white, it is textbook arthouse moves. Whether for you this creates atmosphere or makes you lose patience, I imagine will differ from viewer to viewer.

Armugan helps comfort the dying and ease their passing with Anchel’s help, until one night a desperate mother comes to their door asking for help with her terminally ill and suffering son. Armugan and Anchel are divided on how to proceed.

I’ll be honest, I kinda lost my patience with this. I didn’t feel it had anything interesting to say on the subject of death, certainly nothing that warranted its expansive silences and emptiness. It pays for all its flaws with gorgeous cinematography, but excelling in that one regard couldn’t quite distract me from the aimlessness I felt the film had.

Beautiful to look at, but thin on everything else.

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Sediments

Sediments is a documentary following a group of women taking a trip into the country. It is Lena’s 25th birthday, and her pals are coming home with her for the celebrations. As they tour the Leon countryside, they discuss their identities, life histories and worldviews.

The person I loved most in this was Cristina, because she’s a pain in the arse. She began her transition in her 50s and is still quite new to everything. She’s desperate to get bottom surgery, as though that is the secret to everything, but she struggles to socialise comfortably with the rest of the group. She feels alienated, and her feelings of difference only cause her to put distance between her and her friends, even as she needs them the most. Her friends as welcoming and constantly try to include her and get her to loosen up. But a lifetime of being on the defensive is hard to unlearn, and she’s still at the beginning of that journey.

The other person I adored was Yolanda, whose big personality sparks with Cristina the most. Yolanda was orphaned and left alone in the world from a young age, and grew up on streets, doing whatever she needed to survive. She did sex work to pay for her transition, but quickly became involved with drugs when the violence of the industry took its toll. Now, having survived HIV, cancer, and speaking through a voice box, she remains the most alive person you ever met. Laughing, dancing, sexy and free, she is great fun to see on screen.

Her relationship with Cristina was the most interesting for me. The whole group are like family as much as friends, and Yolanda’s relationship with Cristina is like two sisters who are opposites, who care about each other as much as they annoy each other.

Cristina is so vulnerable at heart, she presents such a defensive exterior. She starts the film by explicitly giving reasons why she might isolate herself from the group – that she is more at home in nature, that she prefers her own company, that she’s not so much into dancing and carrying on. As someone who is also much happier on my own than in a rowdy club, I identified, but at the same time, you’re like, this isn’t Mardi Gras, there’s 6 of you. Cristina doesn’t know how to let her barriers down, after years of having them up as a survival mechanism.

She’s also getting used to chilling out in a group of women after decades of being socialised as male. She comes off as sexist, and frustrates Tina, who asks her to put more effort into being open to feminist viewpoints. Cristina shuts her down, saying all feminism is is blaming men for everything. Which is exactly the viewpoint you could expect from someone who’s had the life experiences she’s had up until that point. She’s still unlearning a lot, and doesn’t identify that much with the other women who are more comfortable in their skin. She puts this down to surgery or realising they were trans from a young age, but it’s all internal to her, and her journey on accepting herself.

As the group tour the quarries and caves around Leon, with artist Saya snapping photos, you see the long history of the earth laid bare, creating shapes that have been years and years in the making. The women themselves are like that, collections of experiences, one on top of the other, forming a whole.

Really interesting film, focusing on the lives of women of trans experience, from different generations and different backgrounds, and the support and sisterhood of friendship.

Good Girls

Good Girls is a short film about the relationship between two sisters. Julia is resentful that Paula has entered puberty and abandoned her for boys. She avenges her sense of rejection by constantly annoying her sister.

The family live on a farm and their stables have become so full that foals of varying sizes have been kept together. This has led to one losing an eye roughhousing with a bigger animal. Unable to sell a one-eyed horse, and unable to afford to keep it, Julia’s parents decide to send the animal off for slaughter.

Julia’s affinity with, and attempt to save the life of the foal mirrors her identification with the animal’s predicament, of being kept in this in-between state between childhood and adulthood. Pre-pubescent, she is sharing a room with her sister who has now had the world of adulthood opened to her, sneaking out at night and exploring her sexuality. Julia is cut off from all of that, yet kept in close quarters with it.

The horse’s injury brings up all of Julia’s pain, and its sale mirrors her own sense of having been discarded. No longer in the cute stage of being a kid, not yet in the sexy stage of being an adult, she struggles with a feeling of being devalued, worthless. A good-for-nothing kind of age.

Without needing to be over-explicit, this film is about women’s relationships under patriarchy. What Julia is becoming aware of is how her appearance and sexual (in)accessibility are determining her place in the world, and sense of worth. Paula, a few years ahead of her in this game, acts more cynical and matter-of-fact. She belittles Julia’s seemingly over-the-top reaction to the slaughter of the foal, but she is not uneffected by its plight either, or unmoved by Julia’s grief.

Paula is trying to decide when and how to lose her virginity, an act which has undoubted impact on a woman’s place in a patriarchal society, and definitely has implications for her worth in the eyes of others. How consumed she currently is with negotiating this major life step leads her to neglecting her relationship with her sister. The dysfunctionality between them is a result of each facing their own challenges with a structure which doesn’t value their inner selves as women, but their outer sexual utility.

Again, Roquet manages to pack so much into a brief short film. Able to evoke resonant relationships in little time, and comment on wider social structures without being heavy-handed. Roquet has a real gift for nuance.

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The Goodbye

The Goodbye is an exquisitely put together short film about Rosana, a maid who prepares her departed mistress for her funeral.

The film is only 15 minutes long and it is not overburdened by dialogue, but it is able to evoke a sense of entire history, of relationships really expertly. Rosana is silent interacting with the body of her mistress, yet you feel the real grief, the respect, and the loss of a friend. The actress, Jenny Rios, conveys so much without words, tenderly clasping the hands of the old woman, dressing her with care, paying these last remaining tendernesses to someone you feel she must have been with for years, if not decades. It is Rosana who has been with her in this house as she has aged, and ached, and eventually extinguished.

The antagonist of the film is the mistress’s daughter, Merce. She acts like she’s inherited Rosana as just another object inside the house. She commands rather than talks to Rosana, and seems to think well of herself because she does so politely. She demands Rosana redress the body, in an outfit Merce prefers, against what were her mother’s express wishes.

The mistress’s granddaughter, Julia, speaks to Rosana like a person, clearly having taken her cue from her grandmother, and seeing her in the same bracket as another grandma or elder in the family. Throughout the course of the film Rosana tries to help Julia come to terms with this, her first death. It’s done in little ways, like encouraging her not be frightened of the body at the viewing, and playing with her in her room when she is anxious and needs to blow off steam. Julia is equally aware of Rosana’s emotional state, wiping away her tears, even after Rosana dismisses it as just a result of cutting onions. There is a tenderness between them that you feel is analogous to that of her grandma.

Merce stands in sharp contrast, constantly cajoling Julia to hurry up, dress smartly, and behave herself. Everything Merce cares about it is appearance, and she displays as little care for Julia’s inner self as she does for Rosana. When she finds out during the wake that Rosana has refused to redress the mistress, she is appalled at being defied. When she tries again to get Rosana to redress the body, Rosana more or less tells her, ‘Dae it yersel’.

The final insult is when it’s time to go to the funeral, and as Rosana appears out of uniform, and in her funeral blacks, Merce is aghast, drawing her aside. She tells her not to come to the funeral, so that the rest of the party may return to the lunch ready for them. This woman who was with her mother for years, she tells her not to come and mourn her. Bastard. Merce is white, of European descent, and Rosana is darker-skinned, perhaps indigenous. A distinction you can almost feel jump out in the moment when Merce realises Rosana intends to attend mass with them.

The Goodbye is a film of mourning, for a person yes, but also for a home. The first shot is of Rosana nodded off in one of the chairs. You get the feeling that this is a place she feels comfortable, where she could doze in one of the expensive chairs in the public rooms without concern. Over the course of the film, it’s clear that will no longer be the case. Julia tells Rosana that her mother says she will come and live with them now. In her childish innocence, she says, “You can stay in my room”. It’s clear Merce hasn’t even discussed it with Rosana, let alone asked her.

Rosana is grieving in this film, for a friend, for a home, for a place in the world. You get a sense of the years she has spent here, and it is an end of an era for her, marking a period of her life that has come to a close.

Superbly acted and beautifully shot, The Goodbye is a testament to what storytelling can be done in short film.

Transoceánicas

Transoceanicas is correspondence between friends through the medium of film. Meritxell Collel and Lucia Vassallo exchange letters, texts and emails over several years, sharing the ups and downs of their lives, breakups and new relationships, pregnancy and children, and their enduring affinity with film.

Very much like the style I’ve seen in Meritxell’s short films, the film is not a traditional visual narrative, but a freeform expression of the love of looking. The letters written back and forth are accompanied by the director’s cinematic thoughtfulness, sometimes dwelling on the literal subject of the letter, sometimes expressive of its emotional state, sometimes reactive to the contents. One will cheer the other up by sending a beautiful shot of trees or the ocean. One in Buenos Aires, one in Barcelona, they share their joint love of both cities, and their homesickness for both.

Transoceanicas is essentially a cache of love letters, but the love of friendship, and the love of cinema. The shared need to film, and the need to share that film. The need to manifest the external and internal world through this medium.

A Month Of Single Frames

Legendary filmmaker Barbara Hammer spent a month at Cape Cod in 1998 making film, recordings, and journal entries. A year before her death 20 years later, she gave the material to director Lynne Sachs, and she created with and for Barbara this beautiful short.

It is like a dream, described to herself through her diary, it becomes a poem. In this wee shack ensconced on the sandy scrub before the beach, Barbara watches the sun rise over the ocean. No electricity or running water, she is alone with her thoughts and the expanse of sky. There she meditates on the surrounding beauty, and contemplates light and colour through her camera.

Pieced together 20 years later, as Barbara’s life is running out, it gives a poignancy to her gasping, clasping joy of the ephemeral beauty of the ever-changing natural world. It is never scenery but a daily interaction with life. The sun to warm, the shock of her rainwater shower, the wind strumming the dune grass.

A really lovely short film.

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A Toute Epreuve: More Than A Book

Really interesting short documentary on A Toute Epreuve, a book of poetry that was created by surrealist painter and sculptor Joan Miro, conceiving of the book as a form of sculpture and each illustration as a work of art.

The book was created in collaboration with Paul Eluard, the French surrealist poet. He composed the poetry in 1930, inspired by Miro’s hometown of Barcelona. Miro then took a decade working on creating his book. With a cover of wooden board, the book is composed of folded paper, with illustrations made from India ink prints from woodcuts. The whole thing took years to make, sculpting each of the cherrywood blocks just so. Miro was meticulous in what he wanted on each page, how it should interact with the text, and how it should fold together as a three-dimensional object.

It was also fascinating to see the book’s conservation. Everything has been kept, the woodcuts, the tracing paper used to create them, the different versions of the pages, as Miro worked out what would go where. All is taken pristine care of, and preserved for the future.

Really interesting look into such a unique object.

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Architectures In Silence

Architectures In Silence is a short film combining shots of an abandoned dog track with historical silent footage of architects Le Corbusier and Antoni Bonet with their thoughts on architecture on black title cards.

I didn’t like it. I had a think about what I didn’t like. Was it the architecture of the building, the Canodrom of Meridiana? Was it the pure insufferable chat about art between the two famous guys? Was it the style it was filmed in? It’s hard to nail down. It just left one word ringing in my head and that word was:

Wank.

And it’s not like I can’t sit and watch narrativeless films, I have and for much longer, and I do enjoy them, their stillness and space for contemplation. And it’s not that I don’t enjoy stuff about architecture or art or folk wanging on about it, coz I also definitely do. And I’ve seen other stuff by this director I’ve liked, so it’s not like that’s the problem.

This film just doesn’t work for me. It’s just not for me. Despite it only being 10 minutes long, I found it wearing, and didn’t get much from it. I don’t know if there’s much more to it than that – I didn’t like it.