I have some Spanish blood in me. So I imagine I am somewhat related to Cervantes. If you don’t know what Cervantes did with Quixote, I won’t spoil it for you. You should read about it. But what you should know is that Quixote started a narrative tradition that has become associated with a certain Spanish intelligence. It is not overtly intellectual, but it is intricate. It has to do with narrative engineering. Almodovar gives and takes from it, Medem and Innariatu do too. It deals with unrooted reality. Usually you have a story set in a reality and things unwind inside it. What the Spanish do is give you simultaneous realities. That’s pretty simple, but it is more complicated: they riddle the story with delicate mechanisms that generate these realities. Sometimes it’s a character, sometimes it’s extraenous to the individuals like an overruling fate, sometimes it’s done in the editing like in Innariatu’s case. It varies.
Why does this interest me? For a few reasons having to do with how we integrate narrative. Sometimes it’s the simple contemplation that I find captivating. Other times it’s the quantum leaps between realities that seem to stand delicately on needle heels. Often it’s because the narrative is self-referential so it alludes to its making and if you can detect that then it’s sort of like an ultimate meditation on the act of creation. And sometimes it can also simply be musical, and make your mind dance. There are many types of the same model and each will come to you open and available, like an honest stranger.
This film here is a strange meditation on the waif musicals, like Oliver Twist or Annie. I am not familiar enough with those to really understand all the bends, but it’s not too important. You have a big house, you have the severe disciplinary Nanny, and you have the wonderful children escaping to their little imagined worlds.
But the imagination here is muted. It is not as a kid would see it. It is more adult, more delicate, more concerned with the pain of loss.
I see it as rememberances of intimate interactions. But an intimacy located in the ordinary. A woman brushing her daughter’s hair.
To this, inserted are all kinds of levels of reflection. Mostly reflection about the act of remembering and how that intertwines with the act of creation. One of them is the little girl as an older woman presenting this story, claiming she does not remember it (yet we see it all). There is a character who is old, invalid, and mute who spends her time “watching” pictures–and a point is made about her never dying. A segment is a re-enactment of a domestic drama done theater-like by the three sisters. It seems like posturing but the wounds are clearly there. Other small games have to do with sight; one especially involves something that dies once seen, and our little girl sees her dead parents wallow in and out of situations.
You might want to excuse me for not reading it as a childhood drama or the political allegory it is often described to be. I did not connect with those allusions here. Childhood is about harmed potential, the gradual restriction of ambitions, and this film here is quite the opposite. It is no ‘Zerkalo’ either. It is another exercise in the Spanish narrative tradition.
But I will warn you. It moves slowly. It is a tad dull in its pacing. It merely bubbles. It is studied, but unremarquable. But that’s beyond the point by now I believe.
Mandatory Alice reference in these multi-layered projects: there is a white rabbit our little girl keeps feeding throughout.