Tuesday, December 8, 2009

SCN wigs out with Javier Rebollo's artful, fascinating WOMAN WITHOUT PIANO

What's in a wig? Ask Carmen Machi, the very ordinary-looking yet intriguing actress, who, with Czech Republic star Jan Budar, turns Javier Rebollo's new film WOMAN WITH-
OUT PIANO into art in miniature. With a near-
constant ringing in her ears that has been diagnosed but given little help, this character can't sleep and so rises, dons that wig and goes out into the city to.... what? You'll see. The wig seems to goose another personality out of her, by turns coquettish, caring, sexual and willing to take the kind of chances she would not normally risk.

It's been two years since Spanish Cinema Now (SCN) gave us art -- with Jaime Rosales' masterful Solitary Fragments (La Soledad) -- and it is of that film that Woman With Piano most reminds me. Both movies seem intent on creating a new way for us to look at and understand the world -- and film. If the work of Señor Rebollo (shown above) is not as profound and masterful as Rosales', due to its more circumscribed characters and themes, in its gliding camerawork and concern for capturing the reality of the everyday (in this case, the everynight), it attains something special. Masterful in a small way, it pulls the viewer into the milieu of late-night/early morning Madrid, which seems a world unto itself -- as are, I suspect, most cities in their off-hours. (Maybe it's just Madrid, but the late-night service people seem lot ruder and closed off to human interaction/common courtesy.)

The film begins with some typical early morning activity between the woman played by Ms Machi (shown above, with Mr. Budar) and her husband as they ready themselves for work. Talk of tonight's dinner ensues, and then we see the woman at her job (electrolysis) and running errands (to the post office). Then it's night. And everything changes. Though TrustMovies has already seen Ms Machi many times -- Talk to Her, Volver, Torremolinos 73, Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón's Don Quixote (she's even in the new Broken Embraces), I must admit not remembering her in any of these films. But I shall not forget her after this one. Though the character she plays looks better -- softer and more real -- without that wig, clearly the new hair allows her to be someone else. Which is what she wants.

There's one scene in the film that features a piano that we hear but do not see. What we hear, however, opens up all sorts of possibilities and gives the film its title. Writer/director Rebollo prefers the indirect to the obvious. What he shows us leaves out a good deal but there is always enough there to make the moment and the situation credible. In addition to Ms Machi, the character we learn and care most about is the foreign worker played by Mr. Budar (shown below). What an odd and enchanting pair these two make. While everything they do appears a bit strange, nothing finally seems unbelievable.

Rebollo has set his film back in March, 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war. I am not sure why this time frame was chosen, but it does make it seem as though the world is on the brink -- as indeed it was, in ways we are still discovering. In addition to his rather remarkable visuals, the filmmaker uses music well, too. Several times throughout the film, truly gorgeous, emotional orchestral music accompanies the visuals in a manner that makes us take note and then consider. Having a cigarette, too, becomes a source of humor and desperation (Spain at this time was clearly in the process of becoming a less-smoking nation.) The director also has an odd way of letting subsidiary characters remain on screen a moment or two past normal so that we suddenly see a snatch of their own lives -- as though he were saying, Look, we could make a movie about them, too!

There's quite a bit to unravel in Woman Without Piano, but it's difficult to imagine that foreign film buffs won't want to set their mind's eye to trying. The film plays one last time at the Walter Reade Theater tomorrow, Wednesday, December 9, at 4pm.
Catch it if you can.

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