{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Monday, October 01, 2007

Pere Portabella's El Soprar

Gene Siskel Film Centre is showing some films by artist, filmmaker, producer Pere Portabella, who is famous for producing Bunuel's Viridiana, which marked the return of the exiled director to Spain and an outrage by Spanish dictator and Catholic Church who thought Bunuel would make something pleasant and in good spirit(although Franco asked Bunuel to make whatever he likes), when invited with open-arms and freedom (of course of dictator type). Pere Portabella himself made few experimental films but most of them, made during Franco's censorship never saw the light of the day and were circulated as underground films. This Sunday, I went to see one of his films Nocturnal 29 (title refers to 29 black years of Franco's regime), but I will talk about a short which was screened along with it.

It is shown along with a short El Soprar which was excellent, I have not seen anything like it. According to Pere Portabella, the short film is about the state of political prisoners under dictatorship, but the film is definitely much more than that. Five political prisoners meet and start a discussion about the validity of the hunger strike by the political prisoners. The argument starts with an accusation that hunger strike is a passive weapon; it’s a act of submission, not an assertive or resistive action that one should take as a political prisoner. Also, if you expect any sympathy or something in return by this act, it is definitely silly. Experiences show that. Is it really an act of desperation? Talking about it as a desperate act, it also brought to the discussion when does a person do that. Is it done as a last recourse of resistance or just as an act of giving up? Is it justified either way? If it adds to the cause then it can be justified. So there should be a connection between the inside and the outside of prison, and the efforts of the political prisoners inside should fuel the movement outside, so in that case, hunger strike is perfectly justified because it helps leaders to give their message to the outside world and help keep the activism alive. But inside the prison, a political prisoner's main aim is to demand a better life, to resist the prison authority from treating them like a criminal. In that case, what good a hunger strike can do. The discussion went on as viewers are more and more allowed to enter the mindset of the people in the discussion.

The discussion moved to the effect of prison life on the person involved and eventually on the movement. Will a prisoner, after release, like to continue with the type of activism and resistance, he was associated to before. Does prison life breaks the will or in some ways (as one of the person says that in such hostility and repression, one becomes more sure that one has to continue to dissent with the status quo, and with all the time by himself there is more time to rethink and clarify the purpose of the struggle) enhances the passion. It is observed that lesser years in prison tend not to break and dissolve the passion that the cause they are fighting for is worth it, but longer years (like one of the person in the discussion group who served 20 years in prison was severed from his family life, and he told, as per his experience, that some of people who serve long sentences feel isolated and left out by the current development in the movement) may kill the flame. The best way, as one suggests is to keep in touch with the outside world and try to live in reality, not in a fantasy that we are fighting for a great cause (to know and have "Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will" as they say). The discussion slowly moved to the aim of the enemy (Franco & Co.) which they try to achieve by imprisonment, and were they able to achieve it. The beauty of the discussion, as always, is the set of people it has, which are all for the same cause, but have different ways to look at it and were allowed to do that. This is bunch of passionate people trying to think logically, not to arrive at any conclusion, but to see things more clearly. The best of them was a woman, who brought an altogether new perspective to the prisoner issue when she, in her very balanced solid voice, raised the issue how the female political prisoners are treated like the subordinate to the male counterparts, and how their experiences of prison are more traumatic for them and the a left out after-life even more, and when a fellow activist tried to use some cliché like we are correct and they are wrong then she positively blasted him for deviating from the point. In the last part, she gives a small powerful speech which leaves everyone speechless including the viewers (A thinking woman gives one hope, as Fassbinder once said, I know Fassbinder was bit satirical in saying that, but I am not).

This visually simple (extreme and medium close ups in black and white with cigarette smoke as a special effect) short is essential because more than the issue it tackles (my post leaves many of the interesting points and arguments, I must take notes in future), it shows an argument in the way it should be done - facts, rationality, openness and passion. The heated discussion, as it was, was never overblown or redundant or simplistic. The heated discussion, as it was, made few of us viewers to enter into it and (literally) speak out. Is it not what they call activism, may be at least the seed of it?


Alok said...

moma is also showing portabella's films. was reading about him in the museum catalogue.

i couldnt go this weekend but may be this coming weekend. will probably have something to add to your post then.

they are showing this film next saturday.


anurag said...

Institute Cervantes Chicago (http://chicago.cervantes.es/) is again showing all of his films.

Actually, after writing the post, I feel I have muddled up some arguments. Better you see this film too, than we can discuss :)