Dreams and memories

Even though Victor Erice and Carlos Saura are filmmakers of diametrically opposed authorial sensibilities, they are both similarly independent spirits who could never come to terms with the terrors of Franco’s regime or the mainstream

Erice and Saura are connected by their eternal fascination with childhood and growing up, which, years later, Del Toro visualized in his film Pan’s Labyrinth as a sort of an Alice in Fascist land. And even though their thematic preoccupations come down to dreams and memories, past and present, fiction and reality, Erice owes his melancholic lyricism to Dreyer, Kiarostami and Mallick, while Saura’s political handwriting draws from Buńuel’s “dusty” neorealist heritage. That is why there is some symbolism in the fact that the only time that Cannes Film Festival was interrupted happened in 1968 when protesters stopped the screening of Saura’s subversive piece Peppermint Frappe in which Hitchcock’s Vertigo meets Buńuel.

Unlike the workaholic Saura, the contemplative humanist Erice made only three feature films, each ten years apart, so that in comparison to him even Robert Bresson’s opus seems fruitful. In order to pay tribute to Erice’s films as supreme masterworks, which they in fact are, a lot of patience is necessary. His debut feature film The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena) portrays rural Spain after Franco’s victory as sort of a Mallick-like desolate country in which everything has stopped. The only fragile breath of “liberation” happens in little Ana who dreams about meeting the good monster from Whale’s “Frankenstein” and befriends a soldier before he gets caught and murdered. Conversely, Saura’s world of children is reduced to repression as a paddle-wheel that stirs up the action. Where in Erice’s films fascism is awakened, in Saura’s films it is counting its last days. For Erice the world of the Spanish South (El Sur / The South) is observed through the eyes of an innocent child and it is a symbol of an idealized past in which there is no Good or Evil, no heroes or escape. Indeed, Erice and Saura have made some of the most beautiful films about growing up in the history of moving pictures. At the same time these films function as remarkable essays about film that tries to contaminate life with inexplicable mystery. And in those moments Erice was and remains an eternal miniaturist and the great poet of nature, while Saura often gave his actors double and even triple roles. For example, in Peppermint Frappe, Saura’s muse Geraldine Chaplin plays the double role of the shy Ana and the carefree Elena.

Perhaps no other Spanish filmmaker was as fascinated with the genesis of a certain art piece on the stage as Saura, whether it was a theatre play (Lorca), a dance (Gades) or an opera (Bizet). The main thing is that the piece emanates the pulsing spirit of Spain. However, this spirit does not evoke stereotypical postcards from summer vacations and tourist tours of “Madrid by night”, but rather catapults the viewer into the very center of passion and lust. Therefore, it is not surprising that another one of his films about flamenco, in which he once again collaborated with the flamenco magician Antonio Gades, is called Iberia, no matter how patriotic and pathetic it may sound. Saura has never been satisfied with making a classic film adaptation of a theater play, instead showing its rehearsals and putting the director’s interventions on the screen (Bodas de sangre, El amor brujo, Carmen).

Erice also could not resist investigating the artistic process. In his documentary-like masterpiece, El sol del membrillo, he follows the painter Antonio Lopez Garcia as he prepares to paint a quince tree in his garden. Where Saura would transform a similar process into an energetic pastiche, Erice is very contemplative and pedantic in Lopez’s contextualization. As Lopez’s preparations take months, while painting he has to take into account the tree’s growing process.

The newest piece by Victor Erice, the installation “La Morte Rouge”, was made for the “Correspondence Erice-Kiarostami” exhibition that was held in Center for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona (CCCB). This piece, a logical continuation of his fascinating film opus, once again focuses on childhood and landscapes. However, this time the director replaced Frankenstein with a B-film about Sherlock Holmes, The Scarlet Claw, which he saw with his sister as a child. “Images do not exist if there are no eyes to watch them. When I finish a film, it is no longer mine. It belongs to the people. I am just an intermediary in that process”, said Erice. So let us give in to the pleasure of watching Erice’s and Saura’s films. They belong to us. (Dragan Rubeša)