Méndez Esparza and Sarunas Bartas bring rigor, close to merciless, to the San Sebastian Festival

Méndez Esparza and Sarunas Bartas bring rigor, close to merciless, to the San Sebastian Festival

'Courtroom 3' and 'In the dark' are proposed as the most radical and hypnotic proposals so far at the festival

Méndez Esparza and Sarunas Bartas bring rigor, close to the merciless, to the San Sebastian Festival

To what extent can one or more rules condition, for example, a work of art? The case of 'The Disappearance' by Georges Perec is well known, which in the 312 pages of his novel had absolutely everything (intrigues, persecutions and deaths), except the vowel e . Grace and virtue consisted in the ability of the text to hide its fault. Every work of art is, by definition, intransitive; that is, it cannot be translated into the set of standards that probably inform it. But in the case cited, the mystery, since it was a crime novel, consisted in hiding this rule to such an extent that success or failure ended up depending almost exclusively on nobody noticing. That was the true meaning of the disappearance: what had to disappear was the very artifice of the disappearance of the e.

The two films screened on Tuesday in the official section of the San Sebastian Festival reproduce Perec's dilemma in their own way. Both ' Courtroom 3H', by the Spanish Antonio Méndez Esparza , and 'In the dusk (In the dark)', by the Lithuanian Sarunas Bartas, are two artifacts, let's call them like that, cinematographic animated by two such energetic glances, firm and rigorous that two strenuously normative points of view would be said. Beyond the intransitive (and by force anti-Aristotelian) rules of art that animate each one of them, what counts is the construction of a necessarily new universe whose achievement depends on naturalness to hide and make the style book disappear. If you notice that the letter e is missing, bad.

Méndez Esparza and Sarunas Bartas bring rigor, close to the merciless, to the San Sebastian Festival

The first of them, directed by the only Spaniard with options this year to the Golden Shell, tells what happens in the day to day of the Unified Family Court of Tallahasee (Florida). If it sounds far-fetched, let's say, to avoid susceptibilities, that Esparza lives there. The film is documentary and it is until exhaustion. The camera is positioned at eye level for the prosecutor and defense attorney, and slightly below the judge's proven dramaturgy ability. And there he unrepentantly attends each of the statements. It is more there he stays to live.

Everything that is seen and heard is tragic. A lot. We speak of children abandoned, abused, injured, used as a weapon of blackmail and examined before the rostrum as merchandise in a strange market of failed wishes and obvious frustrations. Adults who lose their gaze over the camera are simply there as not always silent witnesses of a society (that one there or this one here) that is nothing more than an obvious failure.

The film shares with the prodigies of Frederick Wiseman his curiosity for the everyday, the banal, what is left over. But, unlike in the work of the American master, his intention is not so much to portray the minimalist mechanism of the institution as to stay with its crudest gesture. There is no plot, no structure, and yet as the film progresses the painful sensation of everything that does not appear ends up becoming the obvious protagonist. It is a film about how the State works where there is neither State nor full citizens with all their needs taken care of and no place. It is the emptiness that irritates and hurts.

The result is an exercise in cinema built from the most absolute emptying of gestures and, we have arrived, from the abolition of all rules. Also 'Courtroom 3H ' is the detailed chronicle of a disappearance that, although it runs far away in Tallahasee, affects us all. Let's say that we are facing the most extreme and stark version of ' Life and nothing else', the film that Esparza presented right here in San Sebastián in 2017. If there the very notion of dramaturgy in real life of some protagonists who played to interpret himself, now the dramaturgy itself is the letter e, which is not there anymore. And so.

Méndez Esparza and Sarunas Bartas bring rigor, close to the merciless, to the San Sebastian Festival

Bartas's impossible atmospheres

'In the Dusk ', by Sarunas Bartas , the role of the artifact, mechanism or device that moves history is, if you will, less radical, but, as in the previous case, more aware of what is hidden than what is exhibited. The story is told of a young man who in 1948, with the Second World War just over, has to discover that everything that seems like the end of a disaster is nothing more than the beginning of a bigger one.

He, like so many in his town, is a member of the group of partisans that resists the imminent Soviet occupation. He believes he is on the side of the just, the idealists, the good. But, in effect, the world is much more complicated. It is always so. Soon, lies, betrayal and the simple misery that makes us human will make an appearance and, then, our protagonist will discover the true meaning of growing up.

Bartas, as is the law in his cinema, deposits the conviction power of his cinema in his elaborate and well-worked (perhaps pompous and affected) capacity to build overwhelming, hypnotic, deeply sad environments. The idea is to abandon all narrative intention not so much in action as in passion. Nothing moves before the camera and that is the best example of the general collapse.

Here, too, the rules consist in eliminating what is understood as a story in the common narrative. The rules consist of deleting the rules. The fable is on account of the detained gesture of a young man who is both a witness to what happens and himself the consequence of everything. The result is a sleepwalking cinema built on mystery, on everything it hides. And in the background, death itself as, again, that vowel e never pronounced and which is, in the end, the only one present.

It cannot be said that it was a joyous day.

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