Friday, December 18, 2009

La Ventana (The Window)

In The Window, Argentine filmmaker Carlos Sorin has recast the subtle existential genius of Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries as a Patagonian masterpiece of minimalistic and exacting art. (For example, no musical score accompanies the film.) Sorin admits as much in the liner notes to the DVD when he says he tried to recreate the spirit of Bergman's Victor Sjostrom in telling the story of his own Antonio Romero: "Somehow the spirit of Wild Strawberries has remained latent in me for over forty years." The plot presents the archetypal story of the prodigal son, with a slight twist. Antonio's son, a now world famous pianist who lives in Spain, flys home to visit his father, but Antonio, having suffered a recent heart attack or stroke, is hardly the picture of perfect health. Even though it remains unstated, the pending visit between father and son, who have quarreled over the years and suffered through long bouts of silence toward one another, feels final, and an undercurrent of anxiety runs through each character.

The movie begins and ends in a Borgesian reverie. (In fact, Sorin has fun with this. Antonio, an author himself, shows his doctor a book signed by Borges and dedicated to Antonio.) Much of what comes in between is procedural, though not in the way that the Cohen Brothers' adaptation of No Country for Old Men is procedural. Sorin, in the absence of plot, meditates on the quotidian, in particular, how Antonio's caretakers prepare for the day's occasion: A worker has been driven to Antonio's house to tune the piano, an old bottle of champagne dusted off, readied for a toast. Don Antonio's breakfast is prepared, his IV changed. At times, the conversation between Antonio and his caretakers explores, at its greatest depth, what damage an overnight storm has done to his vegetable gardens. Antonio, understandably, is a proud and stubborn man. He wants to dress nicely for his son's arrival. He wants to go outside and see for himself what the storm has done. And Anthony Larreta plays him perfectly, counterbalancing Antonio's vibrant octogenarian will with its own necessary confusion and misunderstanding. It is a deeply human portrait of a man who's near death, and in his eighties. Thus, it's no coincidence that Antonio's large house, San Juan, looks nearly flesh-colored in the long hours of twilight. But it's also a comic portrait, and one with great drama when Antonio walks out of his house, IV in his hand and still connected to him, to examine the landscape of his life one more time.

Much of the film remains unexplained: What are the circumstances of Don Antonio's health? Over what, exactly, and for how long have he and his son disagreed? Why? Sorin refuses, not only to answer these questions, but even to pose them. Some viewers might argue that, in doing so, the script has created an unnecessary void. (At eighty-five minutes in length, Sorin easily could have done things differently.) To criticize the film, though, for such an approach precludes missing the point of the movie to begin with. Neither Don Antonio himself nor his son, or even his caretakers, need or want answers. They simply long for the recognition and reassurance of each other's presence for a final time.

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