Looking after sight

In this country, we are so used to contemplating our navel that, instead of considering the general crisis which has befallen the cinema for the last decades, we reduce the problem to the bad health of Spanish cinema and blame our authors, our governments, the American film industry or the local audience; it gets even worse when we endeavor to defend our films flaunting box-office proceeds because, though this argument satisfies the accounting spirit, economic success is not precisely a unequivocal sign of artistic excellence. This debate is just as tiring, reiterative and fruitless as cinema itself (not only Spanish cinema!), which for years has insistently remained in the mainstream. The same worn out formulas and overly familiar outlines which the market imposes as dogma educate the spectator in vulgarity and tedious sensationalism.  For this reason, when possible, the best solution to break out of this corrupt debate is to go to the theater to ascertain that, against all prognoses, there is life beyond this abusive credo. Die Stille vor Bach by Pere Portabella affords us one of these few opportunities. To begin with, it has a hygienic effect on memory: in a few minutes, the film manages to suspend the validity of the simplified and highly predictable syntax which we have come to regard not so much as hegemonic but as the only one possible. It reminds us that there are other ways of telling a story or linking images which do not presuppose the complete dullness of the spectator, which, instead of hurting or flattering his sensibility, stimulate his intelligence and his capacity for surprise. It reminds us that there are other forms of beauty, unfettered by the dominant canon of a vision atrophied by the clichés that saturate what can be seen in theaters. Secondly, because this film, by healing our memory, brings back to life our audiovisual imagination: to be capable of seeing in a different way is learning to look at the unfore-seen, coming to realize that it is possible to understand in a different manner what we see and hear, to free ourselves from the snapshots which take the place of experience and hold it hostage; in such a way that one exits to the outside world cured from some of the pandemic illnesses of sight. And, finally, because it is an excellent work about excellent work, about excellence and virtue in the field of art; but art written in lower-case in the sense that it is a plain mistake to believe that this is a message intended for the select aristocratic minority which exhibits high culture as a stamp of social distinction; it has much more to do with a sort of meticulous devotion and taste for a job well done, not defined by the social segregation of high and low.  The critical charge of the film rests precisely in that it forces us to reflect upon the loss of this type of virtue in a society professing to be obsessed with training its members in useful abilities and preparing them for excellence... in a business sense. It also has to do with the mysterious magic of music and time. That this film may be shown in commercial venues is one of the most efficient remedies to combat the bad reputation of Spanish cinema and restore the dignity of the spectators.

February 2008

Autor:José Luis Pardo