Thursday, July 07, 2011

Pereda at AFA: All Things Were Now Overtaken by Silence

Catholicism and experimental film do not often synch-up together. Yet, the words of Sor (Sister) Juana Ines de la Cruz, whose cloistered life of scholarship and poetry eventually gave way to silence, are not wholly out of place in a meditative work of cinema. Although the storylines of Nicol├ís Pereda’s films are generally quite loose, the non-narrative All Things Were Now Overtaken by Silence (trailer here) is definitely the ringer of Anthology Film Archives’ Pereda retrospective, which kicks off tomorrow.

Though she wrote during the colonial period, Sor Juana is considered one of Mexico’s great writers, venerated by the likes of Octavio Paz. Evoking her spirit, Mexican actress-filmmaker-performance artist Jesusa Rodriguez’s recites her poem First I Dream, more or less in character. Perhaps a feature length dramatic reading might not sound wildly cinematic, but at least her verse provides viewers something to readily latch onto. Yet, Pereda is just as interested in the silence between the lines, giving equal priority to scenes of the crew blocking shots as Rodriguez patiently waits.

Filmed in spectacularly stark black-and-white, Overtaken has a deliberately gothic look, further heightened by the location shooting in Sor Juana’s convent. Pereda frames Rodriguez in ways that shrouds her in mystery and somewhat obscures her from view, which is just as well during her topless scenes. Indeed, one might not recognize her on the street, even after closely studying all sixty-one minutes of Overtaken.

For the less adventurous, a behind the scenes film of a monologue performance might sound like a tough sell, but at just over an hour, it is considerably less indulgent and far more focused than many experimental films. This is certainly not Warhol’s Sleep. Indeed, Pereda’s images truly have a poetic quality of their own (rendered with the collaboration of cinematographers Gerardo Barroso, Lisa Tillinger, and Alejandro Coronado).

Though of recent 2009 vintage, Overtaken will likely be the most difficult Pereda film to program in future Latin American film series and retrospectives. However, it is right at home at AFA, New York’s home for avant-garde cinema. This is the time and place to see it. Clearly, it will not be to all tastes, but it is truly an artistically crafted film that genuinely respects its Catholic subject, while presenting her in an unconventional manner. A bold and worthy selection for AFA’s Pereda retrospective, Overtaken screens this Saturday (7/9), Monday (7/11), and the following Friday (7/14).