Up for Debate: Playact

Fictions of the Interlude

By Charlie Bendisch

It starts with a look onto the front windshield, through the varnish of which the north of Mexico is indicated. The images floating by on the transparent surface are already framed as a projection by the dashboard of the car. A shadowless landscape with blistering sand and dried bushes becomes visible. A film history consisting of works like EL INFIERNO (2010) and series like NARCOS: MEXICO (2018) is embedded into this landscape. However, FAUNA (2020) does not aim at staging a counterimage to the hermetic strategies of representation in these films that have inscribed themselves into a collective memory. FAUNA instead uses this north Mexican environment as a vantage point in order to playfully plant new narrative constellations.  

During the last couple of years, we have encountered playful filmic forms on the screen in multiple facets, linked by a casual and intuitive approach to their ideas. The transformation into a bourgeois dog in Julian Radlmaier’s film or the magical appearance of a benevolent angel in Alice Rohrwacher’s LAZZARO FELICE create light-footed, utopian lanes in the midst of sprawling capitalism. Other films let their characters flow jauntily through various blueprints of the world, developing at times expansively like in LA FLOR (2018), or transgressively like in LUZ NOS TRÓPICOS (2020), or excursively like in FAUNA (2020). But what grows out of the divergence of these films from clearly defined conventions of narration and representation? What constitutes the playful film?  

For one thing, it can be the aspect of coincidence. In FAUNA, a small paperback opens up a moment of narrative intersection in the middle of the film. However, this moment does not arise out of necessity but follows from a loose conversation between a pair of siblings. Sunk into a rocking chair, Gabino stares onto the pages while Luisa throws a clean shirt into his lap so that a dialogue necessarily ensues. Her interest in the book’s story starts out as an escape from silence, yet it turns into a narrative branch of its own right. With curiosity the camera now pans down along the worn facade letters of the HOTEL OASIS – the filmic interest is being realigned. Nothing leads to this moment, nothing is being revealed by this change or being hatched by this digression. Instead, a new experimental arrangement is initiated. Contrary to an efficient narrative economy, the initial investment in family dynamics is not being used, but the excursus is embraced. The film nonchalantly blurs the contours of realism and floats from one illusionistic layer to the next instead of thoroughly exposing them. As a playful film, FAUNA is uneconomic in the best sense and the flow of the narration seems motivated only by chance. The film does follow its own logic, yet the development remains open. This openness creates spaces of refuge that undermine the fixed coordinates of realism. 

In SUNRISE IN MY MIND (2020), the glittering foam of a scalp massage constitutes the access point where the temporality of the film dissolves and the image space momentarily diffuses into the imaginary. Whether through the touch of a massage or through a book: wherever narrative branches are opened, spaces of possibility emerge. The exposed imaginations of both films always remain tentative and accessible to new ramifications. The playful film uses a speculative instead of a consequential method of exploration, being as to say precise in its omissions. Playful filmic forms follow a structure that prefers improvisation to calculation. The gestures, movements, voices, and transformations thus come to the fore. In this, the playful film can almost take on a documentary mode when it concentrates on capturing the act of acting in front of a camera. FAUNA exposes this fundamental filmic immediacy that incidentally turns out to be the core of the film – a study about the relation between representation and acting, as well as about the act of the collective, familiar practice of filmmaking per se. 


A video of the debate can be found here.