Lord of Illusion | Bleader

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lord of Illusion

Posted By on 04.13.12 at 02:47 PM

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Love in the shadows, Subiela style
  • Love in the shadows, Subiela style
In my short review of the Argentinian romance Hostage of an Illusion (which screens at the Chicago Latino Film Festival on Sunday and Monday), I wrote that writer-director Eliseo Subiela “seems to be treading water” with this one; I should have added that I’d sooner watch Subiela tread water than see most other directors do the 100-meter butterfly. Subiela is one of those filmmakers—like Luc Moullet, Russ Meyer, or Raul Ruiz—who can’t help but be himself: all of his films feel like they were shot directly from his diary. Regardless of whether his films are straight-up successes (Man Facing Southeast, Last Images of the Shipwreck) or relative trifles (Don’t Look Down), they convey the fluid logic of a dream and take obvious pleasure in filmmaking for its own sake.

Subiela never skimps on his mise-en-scene (consider the care with which he realizes a young woman’s messy apartment in Hostage), and he’s fond of old-school dolly shots and lighting setups. I get the impression that he loves 50s musicals. But as cinematic as the work may be, it has a distinctly literary bent. This comes through in Subiela’s preference for voice-over narration, but more importantly in the way events in his films spin out from one to the next. You always get the impression that you’re experiencing the story as played out in a character’s imagination (and the relative absence of extras in exterior sequences only adds to the feeling). In Subiela’s films, anything can happen—like spiritual transference and ghosts falling in love with the living—but it’s never really a shock when it does. The magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (and numerous other South American authors) is a good point of reference, though they share certain qualities with Paul Auster's dreamier novels, like City of Glass or Travels in the Scriptorium.

Subiela’s great passion, like Auster’s, is the fiction-making process itself. His main characters tend to be writers, and his stories regularly involve the triumph of fantasy over reality. This triumph can be large (e.g., the hero of Don’t Look Down learns to transport his soul to other parts of the world during orgasm) or small (e.g., the middle-aged protagonists of his 1996 Wake Up, Love sidestep pending emotional crises through swing dancing), but it’s always a triumph in Subiela’s presentation. Despite the title, Hostage of an Illusion finds this unique writer-director less concerned with fantasy than usual—unless you count the May-December romance that forms its center. The film’s eroticism is graceful, richly imagined, and thoroughly implausible, which is to say it merits the term “Subielian.”

A more traditionally Subelian image, from Last Images of the Shipwreck
  • A more traditionally Subelian image, from Last Images of the Shipwreck

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