Between the invention of movies and the year 2013, approximately 400,000 films have been made worldwide. Were someone to try to watch all of these films, without a moment’s pause, it would take about 92 years. Our fictions last longer than our lives. . . .
[H]ay cosas que son efímeras, las vidas, las relaciones, las familias, y otras que duran para siempre, como algunas ciudades o las grandes marcas del capitalismo. (Some things are ephemeral—things like lives, relationships, families—and some things last forever, like certain cities or major capitalist brands.)
In January the Argentine playwright and director Mariano Pensotti brought his Cineastas to the Public Theater in New York for a brief run, and I believe this is part of a US tour. It, Cineastas, was one of the great productions that, in a long life of theater-going, I have had the good fortune to see. The play concerns the lives and projects of four moviemakers, and the lines between lives and projects, and between characters, actors, and “real people,” often tangle and blur. One might say quickly that this is the point.
One of the characters-people has been kidnapped and is being held in solitary confinement. For several months nothing changes, and then one day his captors leave a printer in his cell. Every morning the printer generates automatically an image, always the same one, a photograph of the front of the house in which the man is being held. At first he thinks that this is a kind of warning, hinting at the consequences of any attempted revolt. But then he realizes that each day’s image is a photocopy of the previous day’s, and thus with each passing day the image is becoming less and less distinct. “Él sabe que un día, eventualmente, la imagen del frente de su casa va a terminar de desaparecer.” He realized that someday the image of the front of his house was going to end up disappearing. (In New York Cineastas was staged in Spanish with English subtitles. Pensotti has kindly sent me the Spanish script, from which I have made my own translations, including from the lines about “our fictions” quoted above.)
It was not for nothing that the play was designed to take place on two levels and that there was no apparent logic governing whether a given scene would be staged “abajo” (on the bottom) or “arriba” (above). Rather, one of the characters, a Russian living in Argentina, says that an idea of the great Russian filmmaker and theorist Sergei Eisenstein, as well as of Japanese ideograms and of dialectical reasoning, is that the superposition of two ideas generates a third. Eye + water = weeping. And another character—Gabriel—who is keeping secret the fact that he has a terminal illness, thinks that a double life is more balanced than a single one.
Among the salient features of the script was a succession of reversals, as I am terming them. The remainder of this post will present two of these.
One night there is a crisis on the set of the film that Gabriel is making. The wardrobe supervisor’s husband, a young man, had recently died, and his widow, the supervisor—Mirta—had given all his clothes to the Salvation Army. And now the Salvation Army had been solicited to supply the clothing for the extras to wear in a given scene. Mirta has seen coming toward her all the extras, every one of them wearing her dead husband’s clothes. She is, let’s say, more than a little disturbed by this, but Gabriel, himself soon to die, is more philosophical. Soon his clothes and his other possessions will end up being used in someone else’s movie. Indeed, soon enough the principal actor in his movie has moved into his house and is having an affair with his wife.
The production company has not liked at all the rough cut of the highly personal film Gabriel has made—the film that he hopes will help his daughter remember him after his death. The company has hired a new director who is effacing all the most autobiographical scenes.
Another filmmaker—Mariela, a Russian orphan raised in Argentina—comes to believe that in Russia things last forever, whereas in Buenos Aires (capital of a country that has been in decline for a century) nothing is ever built, everything just fades away. Pregnant with either a Russian man’s or an Argentinian man’s child, she decides to return to the Russian village of her Russian grandparents.
At the very end of Cineastas, after a very long and arduous trip, Mariela finally—in a dust-covered train in the dark of night—arrives in this village. She finds the humble village still exactly as it was in her grandparents’ day; the villagers still wearing the same clothes as before; plowhorses, wooden bridges, and farm laborers carrying kerosene lanterns, celebrating the end of the harvest.
Mariela feels that finally she has found her place in the world. And here, too, she feels, she has found all that she needs to complete her documentary film—her lost identity, something that will last, that is not ephemeral. She is so moved and happy her eyes fill with tears.
Suddenly the visible world seems to come to a halt and begin decomposing. Illusion seems to be disappearing in the face of an invisible order.
She discovers that the place is a huge television set erected in the middle of the steppes. Work on a historical miniseries has just wrapped up and the crew has begun celebrating the end of the filming.
— Wm. Eaton, Zeteo Executive Editor
The photograph, from a production of Cineastas is by Carlos Furman.