A rainy Sunday meant only three films, once again very different. I’ll talk more about The Square in a separate review, which leaves one film experimenting with a new cinematic language and another steeped in the language of old.
I’m not terribly familiar with ethnographic documentary—where directors live alongside a particular group of people to learn about them and observe their way of life. I do know that Arraianos takes a distinctly different take. To use director Eloy Encisco’s own words, an arraianos refers to “the inhabitants of the Spanish-Portuguese border, called A Raia Seca. It alludes to a hybrid identity, because an arraiano can be from the Galician or Portuguese part. He lives there, but it doesn't matter what country he is from.”
The film opens with two women a slow, existential discussion in a forest. Throughout the film, dialogue between people is almost uniformly written; they are not actors, but the director has set out to blur the distinction between documentary and fiction. The effect of this is to observe this intriguing halfway point between two very different worlds. Surrounded by forest, these villagers exist outside of modern society. Their day-to-day life, as shown, is rudimentary.
Much of Encisco’s focus is on effect on nature. In the opening shot, the women appear like inserts between trees, in another a perfectly still body of water ripples perfectly, its reflection becoming hypnotic and kaleidoscopic. When a man is shown helping a cow give birth, the camera ensures that we know that the calf has been tied to a rope to help pull him out.
What, then, is the effect of this? It’s hard to say. It’s very deliberately restrained and poetic, but it’s fascinating to learn about these people who seem to live both within and outside of time. The pacing is glacial which makes it difficult to focus and engage with at times, though much of the imagery is stunning and at 70 minutes it’s not exactly a slog. It’s just that it seems to be showing us one idea about these people and repeating it over and over.
[rating=2] and a half
No, I’d never seen this before. But now that I have, I understand why it’s considered such a masterpiece. I had little foreknowledge or preconceptions, so it took my some time to adjust to the sheer delicacy of it all. The way the conversations play out slowly and with no rush to get to the next scene. The way the characters engage fully in mundane things like removing shoes. It’s beautiful, really.
I became so immersed in the world Ozu creates that I barely noticed how slowly it moved until the final act where this fragile shell shatters. All of a sudden, it's like there's all the time in the world but it's slipping rapidly away. Watching the relationships between the children and their parents develop makes the coldness of their attitudes at the end all hit that much harder.
A brief side note: if you’re not going to be respectful when you see older films in cinemas, please, PLEASE just don’t go. There’s a growing pandemic of people who like to snigger through older films when people don’t talk or act like we’ve come to expect in modern cinema. It becomes particularly odious in foreign films because it’s essentially laughing at the behaviour of other cultures. It’s gross, it’s disrespectful to both the films and fellow film-goers, and frankly, it just makes you look utterly stupid. Save that garbage attitude for your own home, plebeians.
Laurence Barber - follow Laurence on Twitter at @bortlb.