Wednesday, December 10, 2008

IN THE CITY OF SYLVIA: Beauty via a brilliant cinematographer, Natasha Braier


Beauty is everywhere IN THE CITY OF SYLVIA -- and why not, since that city is Strasbourg? The streets, parks, architecture (with the occasional cornice shown), lighting that changes via sun or mood, wind that turns women's hair into moving sculptures, and especially the faces of these young and sometimes middle-age women. Most beautiful of all, perhaps, is the countenance of the young leading man, Xavier Lafitte (above, left, and below), whose limpid, light green eyes, soft brown hair and slightly scruffy, square face with its high cheekbones trap the camera's gaze and won't let go. We're talking here of the kind of beauty that few actors possess: Alain Delon, Jean Marais, Gerard Philipe, Jean Sorel (hmmm... they're all French); by the end of José Luis Guerín's singular film M. Lafitte has surely joined the ranks of this gorgeous group.

Before going any farther, I must also mention the immaculate cinematography of Natasha Braier, who -- on the basis on this film, Lucía Puenzo's necessarily dark and roiling XXY and the photographically groundbreaking Glue by Alexis Dos Santos -- I would call one of the best cinematographers at work today. Her most recent job was with Shane Meadows on Somers Town, which I have not yet seen, but this should give us a chance to observe what she can do with black-and-white. Ms Braier's work is probably the most important element in Mr. Guerín's movie; the quiet precision with which she captures every object simply blew me away (she makes even the inside of an auto-bus, below, look special), yet this is nothing like the necessarily showy, ground-breaking cinematography, she gave us in Glue.

Aside from its beauty, In the City of Sylvia provides what I guess could be termed a small "meditation" on lost love and the attempt to re-locate it. Our hero, who seems to be an artist, sketches the many women he sees, usually leaving out most of the face. He's looking for the elusive "Sylvia" of six years earlier, and once during the proceedings, he appears to have found her. This provides the film with its few minutes of "drama" (as two characters actually connect) and a lovely turn from Pilar López de Ayala (Juana la loca), shown top right, above left and below. Otherwise, we're simply following this young man for about 80 minutes (plus credits). Though I was never bored (due to Ms Braier's revelatory work and the beauty on display), I was also not overly taken with the goings-on. We've all experienced something akin to this situation, in which we looked for and/or thought we'd caught sight of a love connection from time past. While this fellow's experience is far more obsessive than most (he's not the only one: the graffiti "Laure, je t'aime" is scrawled throughout the city), we never learn much about him and even less about anyone else we see. Yet the film is one-of-a-kind; I'd watch it again just for the visuals.

In the City of Sylvia opens Friday for a one-week engagement at New York City's indispensible Anthology Film Archives. Obviously, the big screen is the way to see this one.

All photos courtesy of Eddie Saeta S.A.

And speaking of Spanish film (which In the City of Sylvia certainly is), my latest set of reviews on the FSLC's Spanish Cinema Now for GreenCine can be found here.

No comments: