By Alvaro Arroba

How can we recognize the signature of a post-classical filmmaker at first sight? Since the onset of modernity, it’s no longer revealed in the content, but in something diagrammatic found in a film’s outlines; the preliminary image (already emancipated from speech) is reduced to a series of strokes…and when some trace of the shot matches its reflections in our memory, then, voilà, the auteur is suddenly revealed, so full of power. With only four feature-length works (Honor of the Knights, 2006; Birdsong, 2008; Lord Worked Wonders in Me, 2011; The Names of Christ, 2011) plus a glorious, Soviet-musical-like overture (Crespiá: The Film, Not the Village, 2003), Albert Serra is already one of the greatest sketch artists of our time, alongside Malick, Sokurov, Hutton, Kaurismäki, and Costa. There have been Classicist, Gothic, and Baroque directors, but only Serra and Bresson are ethically and aesthetically Romanesque: their heroes are written as plain, schematic archetypes of the collective unconscious (with a free ticket to ride there and back). Serra’s source for this is obvious as he hails from Banyoles, a Catalonian village surrounded by wondrous Romanesque monasteries. Isn’t it tempting to see Don Quixote and the unnamed magical King—Lluís Carbó—as a synthesis of a medieval Pantocrator, almost as an icon? Witnessing these films’ shocking presentness is akin to experiencing time travel: a branch of an olive tree grasped by Carbó or a crown wore by Lluís Serrat invades our consciousness with myth and history intertwined.

Following Lorca, Dalí, Plá, and Pepín Bello, for Serra art begins from his inner character—the rest is a mere extension. Such a neo-Romanesque artist needs to be deeply rooted in European history, law, literature, and philosophy, from Thales of Miletus to the poet Pere Gimferrer. (Sports too! His chronicle in La Vanguardia on the Kramnik-Anand 2009 World Chess Championship final is a masterpiece.) Hence, his small oeuvre is a very rooted one. Try asking Serra about his own background and typically he will proclaim, with partisan grandeur: “I’m the most ultra-nationalist of my fellow citizens: I’m radically Catalan, deeply Spanish, and a soldier of the Old Europe.” So we are faced with one of the heaviest ideological corpuses of any artist working today. In every new opus Serra builds fantastic, arabesque paths with a blend of natural grace and melancholy. He seems to stroll to some place in the infinite where fanaticism and a very special, esoteric kind of rationalism merge. But is this place the utopian Golden Age? Serra’s saturnine melancholy flows from the uncertainty about its existence and its conquest.

Tagged with →  


Friend me on FacebookFollow me on TwitterRSS Feed

From the Magazine

  • Cinema Scope 83 Table of Contents

    Interviews *DAU. Diary & Dialogue. Part One: A Living World, by Jordan Cronk The Land Demands Your Effort: C.W Winter (and Anders Edström) on The More →

  • The Land Demands Your Effort: C.W Winter (and Anders Edström) on The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin)

    Though the process of watching the onset of life’s end yields gut-wrenching moments, some recorded, some reconstructed, it makes little sense to extract one scene from the whole picture, as the film’s ultimate strength lies in its refusal to privilege, well, anything: an image of a tree means as much as a visit to an onsen, three people walking in the dark, a farmer hoeing her land, or a black screen with no image at all, only an intricately composed soundscape (as the quote introducing the film reads, “Until the moment you are dead you can still hear”). Make no mistake: though mortality is front and centre, this is a salute to the possibilities provided by cinema, a celebration of life. More →

  • DAU. Diary & Dialogue. Part One: A Living World

    At the press conference for the premiere of DAU. Natasha at this year’s Berlinale, director Ilya Khrzhanovsky pre-empted questions regarding the controversial methods involved in the realization of his 14-year passion project—collectively known as DAU—by contrasting the experiences of his actors with the everyday lives of their Soviet-era characters. “All the feelings [depicted in the film] are real,” he said, “but the circumstances are not real in which these feelings happen. More →

  • The Math of Love Triangles: Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Trigonometry

    The most arresting image in the new BBC Studios series Trigonometry (airing in the US this summer on HBO Max and in Canada on CBC Gem) comes in the fifth episode, when restaurateur Gemma (Thalissa Teixeira), in the middle of a difficult Nordic honeymoon getaway with her new husband Kieran (Gary Carr), goes on an evening field trip to see the Northern Lights. As Kieran sulks back at the hotel, she gazes up at a display that imbues the uncanny sensation—for the character, as well as the audience—of a planetarium-show special effect despite its you-are-there authenticity. More →

  • In Search of the Female Gaze

    The trope of a woman removing her glasses to suddenly reveal her great beauty is as familiar as it is eye-roll-inducing. She never looks that different, but her status as an erotic object changes immediately and immensely. A classic example is Dorothy Malone as a bookstore clerk in The Big Sleep (1946), but more recently there is Rachel Leigh Cook descending the stairs to the saccharine sounds of “Kiss Me” in She’s All That (1999). Give up your active gaze, this convention seems to say, and you will be alluring. More →