Thursday, December 13, 2012

SCN: Jaime Rosales bounces (halfway) back with his new DREAM AND SILENCE

After only your second full-length film (La Soledad) brings you the nation's Best Picture Award, what do you do for an encore? You give audiences and critics something called Bullet in the Head, which leaves them not a little bit angry and unsatisfied.

Spanish wunderkind Jaime Rosales (shown below) is back this year at Spanish Cinema Now with his latest -- DREAM AND SILENCE (Sueño y silencio) -- and while it is nowhere near the level of his first two films, it marks at least a measured return to the kind of movie that will not entirely alienate an audience.

Those hall-marks we've come to expect from Rosales are all here: the stationery camera; the distancing camerawork, in which we stay at a certain remove from the event; the almost docu-mentary style; interesting, thoughtful use of ambient sound. This time, however, the filmmaker has pulled some major surprises, not all of them pleasant for his viewers. The big event happens not only off-screen but is missing even from the actual time-frame. (Unless the screener on which I watched the film malfunctioned, it seemed as if there was an odd bit of static/editing at the moment in which this "event" takes place.) We don't even know that it has happened -- or what it is -- until later in the film.

In La Soledad, a movie alive with interesting relationships, one of the two big events happens at a distance, but it is such a shock and surprise that we need that extra time during which the camera remains fixed to process what we're seeing. The second big event takes place in front of us but in the next room: We watch it occur, somewhat obscured, though an open doorway. In Dream and Silence we don't even get that much: Instead, we learn what has happened via some rather clunky exposition between two characters. Rosales seems to be testing us: How little can I show you and still keep you on my leash? Well, sir: more than you've given us here, that's for sure. The filmmaker offers up a relatively happy family (above) then tears it apart to learn, or maybe prove, that it can somehow be made whole again.

Even more than usual, Rosales has cast his film with fledgling actors -- three generations of them -- and for each man, woman and child, this appears to be his/her film debut. That they all -- or most, at least -- do a fine job, attests to the filmmaker's skill in casting and/or direction. The wife, as played (I believe) by Yolanda Galocha (above), is especially good: loose, real, motherly, sexy, funny and finally quite moving.

Rosales' stationery camera is as effective as ever, except in the funeral scene, where it is simply set up way too far from the event itself (and for three times the length needed) so that our fidgeting/
annoyance level grows to immense proportions, as we try to figure why in hell we're here and what it is the filmmaker wants us to see.

When that camera is finally moved -- and beautifully, during a couple of scenes in a vast park -- it borders on the near-extraordinary. In the penultimate scene, after being somewhat cooped by by this family and its problem, we're set free to roam with the camera that lovely park and just view  the various kinds of humanity on display. The effect is low-key but very moving.

Throughout, the beautiful, widescreen, black-and-white cinematography by Óscar Durán is the jewel in this somewhat fragmented crown. The film begins with an artist at work and ends with an artist once again working -- but this time in color (below). You can ponder awhile and probably come up with a sensible reason or two for the switch. But when color intrudes in the middle of the film, for maybe half a minute and for no apparent reason, as grandfather sits behind the wheel of the car, you'll be flummoxed. What's the point here? To remind us of what color looks like? Or maybe as a test for dozing sleepyheads?

The central situation of the film -- what happens to father after the big event -- is handled in such a drab, uninteresting manner that it's, well, boring. Granted this approach avoids melodrama. But it also avoids much real drama, feeling, expression, the works. We occasionally get glimpses of all this, but in Dream and Silence the details he has chosen to show and tell us are nowhere near the specificity level needed for real immersion into the situation. This same thing happened with Bullet in the Head, where the situation would seem even more extreme and tension-filled (a terrorist strikes in a public place) but the distancing is so great that the film ends up leached of much of its inherent interest.

In both La Soledad and Rosales' first film The Hours of the Day (about the life and work of a serial killer), the filmmaker found so many ways -- via honest, specific and challenging connections, dialog and events -- for us to enter the central situations that he managed to offer reality, avoid melodrama and rivet our interest and concern. I hope he finds a way in his future films, whatever their subject matter, to do this again.

Dream and Silence plays only once at Spanish Cinema Now, tonight, Thursday, December 13,  at 8:30 pm.  Click the link above to see all of this year's programs, finished or still ahead.

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