Wednesday 8 May 2019

Spanish Film Festival (8) - Barrie Pattison reports on THE PROJECTIONIST (José María Cabral)

Well of course this thing is not a Spanish Film Festival but a Hispanic event which is probably a good thing. That block of work is, next to Arab cinema, the one we know the least about. How many films from the Dominican Republic have you seen?

José María Cabral’s El proyeccionista/The Projectionist arrives to fill that gap, a work from one of their most prestigious film makers starring another, one Félix Germán whose 2005 La maldición del padre Cardona this film references. 

It’s just a pity that the current film isn’t more involving. It’s got ambition in spades. It’s telling us about the death of the photo chemical image, replacing real life with the movies (I wouldn’t know about that) and fetishising screen players to the point where grizzled Germán would rather watch his faded Kodachrome that get it on with spunky young Cindy Galán who keeps on taking her shirt off. Throw in references to the Pygmalion legend.

Germán is found arguing with the garage guys who can’t keep his late dad’s rumbling old van running. He shows no interest in the new digital technology proposed to him, clinging to his 33 and a third records and various movie projectors while rolling round the countryside doing film shows to a dwindling audience. He has a refrigerator full of old Kodak film cans containing home movie footage of a curvy Latina become his love object. Germán is in agony when an electrical fire damages these.

He sets out in the truck taking his movies to barrios where they would rather sit watching their TVs. At one stage, he zaps the junction box plunging the district into darkness to restore his audience.

Young Galán is one the run from her own family problems and imposes herself on the trip despite his resistance. He’s on a quest to find the military officer in his dad’s faded photo, heading to the barracks visible behind him and tracking down a former soldier whose memory has dimmed like the physical record represented by the contents of Germán’s old technology materials. 

Germán’s pilgrimage leads him to his crumbling one time family home where he recovers a sound record that accompanies the ancient film. One of the film’s many implausibilities is the notion that a clockwork Bolex will hold synch. with a battered quarter inch tape deck. He even rigs up screens round the house so that the projected image matches the suroundings - his terrible family secret is revealed - erotica, infidelitatas.

El proyeccionista is grungy and incoherent and it ignores many of the more interesting possibilities it broaches. The (Haitian?) migrant column they encounter is no more than a target of opportunity audience.  We’ve seen bits of this done better in  The Picture Show Man, Cinema Paradiso or Blow Out. In fact the 1997 Bill Morrison short The Film of Her covers the same ground better in twelve minutes.

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