Sunday, December 09, 2012

Spanish Cinema Now ’12: The Dream and the Silence

Oriol is an architect, but he is terrible at rebuilding broken things, like his family.  At least he is carrying on just fine.  Not only has he forgotten the accident that killed his youngest daughter, he has blotted out all memory of little Celia.  It might sound like the set-up for a psychological drama, but traditional narrative form is not something Jaime Rosales gets hung up on with his pseudo-experimental The Dream and the Silence (trailer here), which screens during the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 2012 Spanish Cinema Now.

Oriol and Yolanda are two very unexceptional parents with two perfectly presentable daughters, Alba and Celia.  That all changes on the fateful day Oriol drives Celia back from her grandparents’ home.  The architect’s mental block might help him deal with the situation, but it makes matters far worse for Yolanda, who as a result feels added pressure to keep Celia’s memory alive.  As her emotions fray, Oriol becomes more distant and disengaged in family life.  From time to time, the audience witnesses extreme situations that could have been the stuff of genre cinema, but are presented by Rosales in a diffuse, roundabout manner instead.

Take a deep breath before walking into Dream, because it is described by the sympathetic as “demanding.”  Like high-end mumblecore, Rosales employs a highly improvisational approach with mostly nonprofessional cast.  While it sometimes takes a while to tease out what is going on in a given situation, viewers will get a keen sense of the personalities that make up this family.  Jaume Terradas is especially powerful as the grandfather who was one of the last people to see Celia alive.  When bickering with his wife and later mourning a grandchild, his weathered face commands the screen.

At times though, Rosales appears to be fighting his actors with his stylistic excesses. Granted, he frames some striking tableaux, but they lose some of their potency when held too long.  As for the Godardian jump-cuts, they are an unnecessary distraction.  Still, Óscar Durán’s black-and-white cinematography is unusually powerful, better described as stark rather than beautiful.  For added intellectual heft, the film is bookended by scenes of work by Miguel Barcelo (seen in The Double Steps) taking shape on his canvas.

Without question, Dream is a festival film that is unlikely to see any regular theatrical bookings in America, except perhaps in the ever daring Anthology Film Archives, God bless them.  There is a there there, but there is also plenty of meandering slack.  Visually distinctive but indulgently elliptical, Dream and Silence is only for cineastes that privilege image over narrative.  It screens this coming Thursday (12/13) at the Walter Reade Theater as part of this year’s Spanish Cinema Now.