dom. Feb 17th, 2019

The Delightfully Surreal Chaos of ‘La Vendedora de Fósforos’

vendedoraPhoto via Clarín

How many times have you watched a movie where the plot revolved around…  well, making a movie? From Fellini’s 8 ½ to Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, it’s a storytelling trope to which filmmakers are constantly drawn. There are also hundreds of movies about writing a book, dozens of movies about staging a play, and even a few films about making a painting. The often arduous, ultimately rewarding process of creating art – of struggling with inspiration, of running into roadblocks and ultimately overcoming creative obstacles – has long been a running theme in film.

This may be a simple case of “write what you know” (and who knows the struggles of the creative process better than creators themselves?), but it could also be due to the simple fact that protagonists who are attempting to create a piece of art have a clear and discernible motivation, and the setup can be used to explore grander themes.

Alejo Moguillansky’s La Vendedora de Fósforos is a great example of this. On the surface, it is a film about a group of people attempting to stage a particularly abstract opera (though there are multiple characters that will repeatedly question whether this could in fact be categorized as an “opera”). The process of creativity is at the very heart of the story.

But, at the same time, it runs a lot deeper than that, often taking left turns into meditations on war, legacy, partisanship, class divide, and parenthood; all the while remaining a rich, vibrant, poignant and often laugh-out-loud funny movie watching experience. If this sounds ambitious, that’s because it very much is. Like the opera that the film grapples with, this story defies categorization.

The premise of the film is simple enough: Marie and Walter are a middle-class Buenos Aires couple with a young daughter. Walter works at the Teatro Colón, assisting veteran German composer Helmut Lachenmann in staging his new opera, an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s harrowing story The Little Match Girl.

The problem being that Lachenmann’s opera is incredibly ambitious and abstract, perhaps too much for its own good; the music, performed by a full orchestra, is a formless, often tuneless series of meticulously-timed shrieks and seemingly random instrumental bursts. The staging? Well, it’s what you’d call unconventional: there are to be no actors on stage at any point (“so, can you even call it an opera?” is a running joke).

This leaves Walter with the impossible task of figuring out the best way to convey this story on stage; however, it’s through several conversations with Marie that he makes small steps toward figuring out the solution. Marie is whip-smart and extremely creative, yet she is relegated to taking care of their daughter while providing assistance for an old woman’s piano lessons. There are political upheavals within the theater, a looming threat of a general transportation strike, and a sub-plot involving the old lady’s World War II-era correspondence.

If you’re reading this and feeling like you’re not quite sure what to make of the film, let me assure you that the experience of sitting through it is as delightful as it is sometimes slightly bewildering. La Vendedora de Fósforos is a wonderfully unconventional film, gleefully throwing away the shackles of traditional three-act structure and instead poking around the corners of these character’s inner lives during this specific moment in time.

It is punctuated by hilarious asides, surrealist dream sequences, and stunning music throughout. It mixes reality and fiction, actors and non-actors, abstract dissonance with beautiful melodies. There’s no movie I could really compare this to, as no movie I’ve ever seen hits this particular sweet spot of humor, wistfulness and whimsy.

The film was produced by El Pampero Cine, the production company that has been making waves in Argentine cinema for over 15 years now. You may have heard of another Pampero film which caused a bit of a stir earlier this year: Mariano Llinas’s La Flor, a 14-hour masterpiece which was awarded Best Film at the Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Cinema back in April.

Though they’re very different movies stylistically, aesthetically and thematically (not to mention length wise; La Vendedora de Fósforos is a breezy 70 minutes), we can trace a clear line between both films in the emotional space they occupy, their surrealist approach to mundanity and the various literary digressions they take. They’re both wonderfully unusual experiences that are more than worth checking out.

La Vendedora de Fósforos is playing every Saturday at MALBA | Ticketing information can be found here

Publicado en el
2018-08-30 14:43:32

Jorge Farah

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