To take the first step is probably one of the most complex things that we, the living, have to do.
There is so much involved that you can’t take this task too lightly and, if you are lucky to be able to choose from a vast range of possibilities, you can get lost. This situation recalls a scene from an early Almodóvar movie. A crazy, but very positive, woman goes to a lamp shop with her boyfriend. She is fascinated by the lamps and expresses her marvel in a totally absurd way. She likes all those tacky lamps. Therefore she can’t just buy one, she wants them all…
We can’t choose everything, that would abolish the concept of choosing. We can have a more or less defined perception of certain things. We can be absolutely sure of some others. We can also have many doubts about other things and, finally, decide not to choose anything. Anyway, what we’ll always have is fiction. In the realm of fiction we can test our suppositions. We can choose different paths to find out which one we should take. What are their characteristics and which suits us the best? Which one do we prefer?
Several times we’ve expressed this guiding conviction: what really matters isn’t the work, but the people behind it. In the case of Barren and Empty the Sea this conviction is upheld. It’s a high risk work defined by its provocative and austere character. A work whose creators show that they have a clear conception of what they want. Jesús Serna and Lucas Parnes have finally set out into the wild to surprise us with their first feature. They placed jelly beans in very specific spots of the way that help us keep track of them. Their film is alive, very coherent and doesn’t disregard the viewer.
Their film isn’t plain and simple because it radically diverts from well-trodden paths. It has universal traits that are easily recognizable but, at the same time, it subdues and harasses us, it even turns us a bit mad. If it were the usual film-equation, the authors would avoid such direct contact with their finished work. We wouldn’t be facing a work that talks to us about ourselves.
It’s a very sincere work that deals heads-on with close and personal issues. In which an “I” affirms that he doesn’t know who he is…
An anguished Antonin Artaud, trying to catch his fleeting thoughts, wrote about this in one of his letters to Jacques Rivière, his editor. This would be his icy question:
“Do we have to conclude that, if our thoughts aren’t whole, one isn’t anything; or can we accept, nonetheless, that there’s something, even when it’s not a whole “I,” so tall, dense and large as myself?”
(A. Artaud: Correspondence with Jacques Rivière, in: Letters to Génica Athanasiou, 1973, p. 70).
A startling question that would become an universal and revolutionary issue for all artists. An open door to the fragmentary, unfinished or hidden. Artaud’s correspondence with Jacques Rivière would turn out to be the Bible for any artist that can’t detach himself from his own work, nor be a slave to trends and cheap tricks. A work of art isn’t deaf to its creator’s spirit.
In Barren and Empty the Sea Jesús and Lucas put us, the viewers, in front of a mirror. And although their double authorship could imply a certain contradiction, don’t let us forget that the universal embraces the singular. Somehow, the double authorship of this film asures us a particular experience. It’s similar to the double discurse that takes place in ourselves all the time. Inner dialogue against patent interior dialogue… And always on a one-to-one basis, from Esteban -the main character- to us.
As you may have guessed already, the central issue of this feature is a hurdle: the tentative “I.” And, logically, all the problems that come from it. You can lie about who you are and, if you do it convincingly, everybody will believe you; but if by any chance you find yourself totally lost, people will avoid you as if you had the plague…
Furthermore, this film doesn’t care about political correctness. Every character treats the others insensitively. This unsettles us the most.
In the beginning of the movie, the absurd starts to ascend to the skies in a vertiginous flight. The ascent is done stepwise but swiftly, so that suddenly you don’t know anymore where you are.
If Barren and Empty the Sea (2017) didn’t belong to the genre of science fiction, we would say that it’s an existencial piece with imprints from Pedro Páramo (1955) by Juan Rulfo or The Stranger (1942) by Albert Camus. But it can only be a piece of science fiction, because it depicts an inconceivable reality.
While we try to understand what’s going on, something starts to roam around us; this something can only belong to another dimension. In such an exercise we want to track down its precedents. We try to give a certain color to its essence, but… What does the genre matter when there’s true creativity involved? When you don’t save anything for tomorrow? When what is under consideration is a possible version of yourself and that you may go mad trying to sort this mess out?
The precise question is: Who am I?
Everything that happens on the streets affects the structure of our inner maze, even if you’re exiled from the outside world. Can we BE without the others?
Luís de Camões, the national poet of Portugal, approached this issue in a less overwhelming way. He soothes us with his verses about those who don’t accept their condition and prefer to be lonely or, at least, have self doubts.
seeing me so taken by myself,
walking away from others,
forgotten by human gossip.
Maybe this concession isn’t enough to alleviate our anxiety. The issue in question continues to haunt us. The infinite uncertainty that casts a shadow over the unacknowledged holes of our being.
Another version of the facts would be sufficient to sate our extreme need to know, our unquenchable thirst to understand. Something that isn’t a lie nor the illusions created by ghosts…
…can’t be anything but fiction.
It shows a future that any fortune-teller could foreseen, but you would never believe.
It’s through its theatrical traits, that are sometimes hard to perceive, that the film evokes reminiscences. These exaggerated accents show the qualities of the film.
An homage to the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen is paid through his inconsequent adventurer Peer Gynt (1867). In this play, fantasy tries to enlighten dreadful villagers, who are full of prejudices and archetypically blind to the illuminating experience of theater. Lies liberate the characters in the play and give them a reason to exist.
The complex Nordic drama has some fantasy elements that suit the hallucinatory side of the film. They even justify the schizophrenic behavior of Esteban, played by an almost real Rodrigo García Olza.
Esteban is a reflection of Peer Gynt, the reckless adventurer of doubtful morals. Esteban learns from him not only that lying is a last resort, but also something on the lines of “I am whoever you want me to be, so at least I will be.”
Its last lesson is related to the emotions and impulses that keep the people of this village without a name going. They are enclosed in their weatherproof flask and seem not to tire of pursuing their own shadows. Like the dog that chases his own tail, they’ll be forever running in circles.
At the same time, Serna and Parnes also get emotional to the point that they can’t make any concession to themselves. Their film shouts a big no to lying. Their film spreads black ashes from an uncertain reality that weight heavily on our lungs. And, after all, what really matters to them is to continue looking for the truth, no matter how much it may cost. This grim and deserted feature repudiates everything, but the truth.
If you want to read other reviews by Los Carlos, please check their site: https://elcinequellevamosdentro.wordpress.com