September 2014, arsenal cinema

Showcasing Albert Serra

EL CANT DELS OCELLS, 2008

The Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra (*1975) is one of the most important innovators in contemporary cinema. Since his sensational debut HONOR DE CAVALLERIA (2006), his films have received plenty of attention at film festivals, with his HISTÒRIA DE LA MEVA MORT (2013) being awarded the main prize at Locarno. For some years, Serra has also worked on visual arts projects commissioned by various museums. However, despite his international reputation his works are not well known in Germany. Arsenal will be showcasing his feature films, as well as works created for exhibitions, including one short that was part of the monumental "The Three Little Pigs" project commissioned by dOCUMENTA (13). Furthermore, we will also screen a making-of film showing the artist at work. We are very pleased that Albert Serra will be with us at Arsenal. He will participate in Q&As with the public, and on 7.9 Nicholas Wackerbarth will host a debate among filmmakers as part of the "Revolver Live" series.

Albert Serra’s cinema is stripped down to the essentials. He works with a small, reliable team, on a tight budget, and always uses amateur actors who are almost all from the place where he grew up. Serra, who studied literature and art history, examines literary, sometimes historical, figures - such as Don Quixote, the Three Wise Men, Casanova or Dracula – but his films are never adaptations in the classical sense. He purges his material of mythical extra weight. The plots of the literary originals are secondary. His largely improvised films are far from action-packed; featuring long takes, they are captivating because of their atmosphere, the attention to detail and a sense of the absurd. They function through the interplay between landscapes and bodies, as well as through their meditative pace, and they sharpen the senses. The low-resolution digital images are composed meticulously, the soundtrack is very present, the light is always natural and dialogues are relatively rare. Serra's minimalistic films and his unusual manner of working represent a radical cinema that follows no specifications and leaves behind the conventions of narrative. To make such films is bold and requires a great deal of freedom.

HISTÒRIA DE LA MEVA MORT (Story of My Death, Spain/France 2013, 5.9., in the presence of Albert Serra & 11.9.) Casanova, the legendary 18th century seducer and cosmopolitan, decides to give up la dolce vita in a Swiss chateau, featuring candlelit conversation, noisy eating and strained digestion, and to travel to eastern Europe with his servant. He settles in the Carpathian countryside and meets the vampire Count Dracula. As the ageing libertine's powers of attraction dwindle, his world implodes and Dracula takes over. Serra's ingenious matching of these two enigmatic figures of cultural history is about the crossover of two eras: The light of the Enlightenment gives way to the dark, esoteric forces of the Romantic era. This is a costume drama with pop references, a night piece with deliberately long takes; it is a film full of sensual freedom in which for the first time Serra combined the improvisation of his amateur actors with written dialogue and music.

HONOR DE CAVALLERIA (Honor of the Knights, Spain 2006, 6.9., in the presence of Albert Serra & 12.9.) Expecting adventure, a knight who is not the youngest and his loyal servant roam aimlessly over the fields of Catalonia: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. They take in the landscape, crack nuts, search for bay leaves, go swimming and pitch their tent on the edge of the forest. Although they hardly speak they are bound by something intimate. The wind hisses in the trees, the light plays on the leaves and the crickets chirr. Filmed on video with amateur actors in the great outdoors, without artificial light and with a multi-layered soundtrack, Serra's fascinating debut film is an extremely pared down version of Cervantes' world-famous novel: there is no character psychology, no Dulcinea and no windmills.

CUBA LIBRE (Spain 2013, 7.9.) A singer performs passionately on the stage of an old-fashioned nightclub. The guests all look like characters from a Fassbinder film or the director himself. Named after the cocktail that Fassbinder orders in "Beware of a Holy Whore", this musical short evokes Fassbinder's cinematic universe. It is part of the 101-hour project "The Three Little Pigs" that Serra made for dOCUMENTA (13). It is dedicated to the actor Günther Kaufmann, who was discovered by Fassbinder, whose lover he was for a time.

EL CANT DELS OCELLS (Birdsong, Spain 2008, 7. & 10.9.) As they look for the newborn Jesus, the Three Wise Men make their way through deserted mountainous, volcanic and desert landscapes. Little happens. They march on, or take a rest in the shade. They don't know the way. They climb a mountain and sleep in the open air. Their rare dialogues are wonderfully absurd. For example, they talk about how clouds feel like or imagine what it must feel to be inside a snake. The black-and-white film featuring amateur actors (reminiscent of Beckett characters) concentrates mainly on bodies and breathtakingly beautiful landscapes. It subverts the holy with humor and situates the biblical story between myth and reality, sacred and profane.   

EL SENYOR HA FET EN MI MERAVELLES (The Lord Worked Wonders in Me, Spain 2011, 8.9.) Albert Serra, the protagonists from his Don Quixote adaptation HONOR DE CAVALLERIA and his small team of co-workers travel through La Mancha in central Spain. They  move into a hotel, do screen tests from time to time and spend a lot of time debating. Their talks center on European dictators, the "Summer of Love" of 1967, Dalí, annoying film critics, a bull who gored a torero and more. They sit around, waiting, letting time go by. This is a heavily slowed down slapstick film about the making of a film that was never made. Instigated by the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona as part of a filmic correspondance with Lisandro Alonso.

ELS NOMS DE CRIST (The Names of Christ, Spanien 2011, 9.9.) This film was commissioned for an exhibition entitled 'Are you ready for TV?' at the Museu dArt Contemporani de Barcelona and was shot in the museum itself: It is a kind of TV series compiled of 14 episodes, comprising ca. 10 minutes each, which each correspond to one of the 14 Stations of the Cross. It is about the difficulties of funding a "difficult" film, with which the filmmaker himself and later his producer struggled; it is about the processes of transposing literature to film, about bringing cinema to museums and from museums to television, and it is also about the parallels between religious asceticism and the production of art. A wild mixture of theology, cinephilia, humor and criticism of institutions runs through this self-reflexive, subversive essay film.

WAITING FOR SANCHO (Mark Peranson, Canada 2008, 10.9.) The Canadian film critic Mark Peranson took the role of Josef in BIRDSONG and he made the most of the occasion to document the shoot on the Canary Islands. His respectful and humorous making-of film provides a revealing insight into the process of filmmaking and Serra’s unusual working methods. For example, if he wants to make his protagonists laugh, he shouts: "Vicks VapoRub! Real Madrid!" (bik)

Kindly supported by the Institut Ramon Llull, the Delegation of Catalonia to Germany and Austria, as well as Hotel Gat Point Charlie. Thank you to Julià Florit and Montse Triola.

August '17