02 June 2011

Another addition to the top 30 films of the 00's:

12a. In the City of Sylvia (2007, d: José Luis Guerín) came out on dvd last week, and I hadn't seen it before though it has had the keyboards buzzing. I had just re-watched L'Eclisse, which is clearly an influence on Guerín, who avoids the gravity of Antonioni's subject matter in favor of the sights and sounds of the street, that full opening up to the faces, footsteps, reflections and shadows as in Jeanne Moreau's Milan encounters in La Notte or Monica Vitti's Messina stroll in L'Avventura. In the City is so referential that it seems to me like a second-gereration exercise rather than a strikingly original film, but this opening up to the particulars of the frame and soundtrack is so pleasurable and such a stark contrast to other current fare as to merit its cult status. The Rohmer influence also comes through very clearly, especially the third episode of Rendezvous in Paris in which "the painter" follows "the young woman" around the Marais after adjourning his date with "the Swedish girl" at the Picasso Museum. The knot in the back of the hair of this woman in the café presumably refers to that Anglo-American classic of the fixated male in urban romantic pursuit, Vertigo..

Though Antonioni said "the female consciousness is the best filter of reality I know," Guerín, like Rohmer in the Rendezvous episode, centers the film around the male consciousness. William Arrowsmith explained Antonioni's quotation "women provide less impeded access to the realities suppressed by the Faustian organization of the world. Since the actual structure of the Faustian world, especially those in Italy of these earlier films, is a male affair, and since Antonioni has mostly depicted male intellectuals - architects, writers, art critics, even stockbrokers, all of them clearly Faustian intellectuals insofar as they are manipulators of abstractions - his men exhibit fairly consistent traits..." Perhaps coincidental or not is a factor that I don't think has been touched on much, the narrative structure of In the City's debt to Goethe, about whom Guerín made an earlier seven minute short (in the extras) called In the City of Lotte. At the age of 21 Goethe lived in Strasbourg, the City of Sylvia, where he was introduced to German folk songs by the slightly older Johann Gottfried von Herder, and fell in love with the country girl Friederike Brion, about whom Goethe's folk song Heidenröslein was written:

Once a boy saw a little rose standing,
Little rose of the field,
She was so young and beautiful,
He dashed there quickly to see her near,
Beholden with abundant joy,
Little rose, little rose, little rose red,
Little rose of the field.

The boy then said: “I shall pick thee,
Little rose of the field.”
The little rose said: “I shall stick thee,
That you’ll always think of me,
And, I’ll not want to suffer it.”
Little rose, little rose, little rose red,
Little rose of the field.

Still the rough boy picked the rose,
Little rose of the field.
The little rose fought thus and pricked,
No prose of pain could help her,
Alas, she must suffer it yet.
Little rose, little rose, little rose red,
Little rose of the field.

..so if In the City seems to me at first to take the atmosphere of Antonioni while forgoing the master's use of these forms to reflect on the "Faustian world," it returns to a pre-Faustian male consciousness of one who did perhaps the most to decipher that world.

Update: Also, Balthus seems to be a big influence: both the portraiture and the street scenes, in which guys are constantly carrying things across the frame.

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