Thursday, January 03, 2013

First Look ‘13: Arraianos

Start the New Year with the salt of the earth and the theater of the absurd.  Eloy Enciso combines the observational documentary with vignettes from Jenaro Marinhas del Valle’s play O Bosque forming a decidedly experimental hybrid.  For those looking for a tactile sense of Galicia, the Museum of the Modern Image is the place to be when Enciso’s Arraianos (trailer here) screens as part of this year’s First Look.

In a hardscrabble Spanish village near the Portuguese border, Galician is still the common tongue.  Time appears to stand still and nature rules capriciously.  In what could be scene out of Waiting for Godot, two old women bicker as they try in vain to chart a course out of the dark woods. Meanwhile, rough-hewn farmers labor with tools that appear wholly inadequate for the tasks at hand.  For respite, they gather at the pub and sing traditional Galician drinking songs together.  Perhaps salvation lies with a blind prophet who promises to lead wayfarers through the forest, but his appearance may only be a short-lived narrative tease.

The songs heard in Arraianos really are cool.  Unfortunately, the music and occasional snippets of folklore invariably give way to long shots of livestock.  Enciso is clearly more interested in creating a visual tone poem to Galicia than any sort of traditional documentary or narrative feature.  The result should be catnip for those who admire Denis Côté’s Bestiaire.  Cinematographer Mauro Herce fully captures the grey, dankness of the region.  Yet for mere mortals, the film is rather frustrating, temporarily stimulating out interest, but then quickly shifting the focus to some cows.

While last year’s First Look featured the New York premiere of films from internationally renowned but accessible filmmakers like Johnnie To and Philippe Garrel, this year’s edition looks like it was programmed with high-end cineastes specifically in mind.  Despite it relatively brief sixty-some minute running time, Arraianos moves at a purposefully measured pace. Those fascinated by Iberian culture may enjoy unpacking it, but casual viewers will find it decidedly challenging.  For the adventurous, Arraianos has some evocative musical moments and more than its share of cattle when it screens this Saturday (1/5) as a selection of the 2013 First Look at MoMI.