“There are at least two kinds of people,” wrote Anne Boyer in “Garments Against Women”. One of them is “not alien from the creation and maintenance of the world, and the world does not treat them as alien”. There then exists the opposite, people for whom the world is more or less impossible, and every one of its elements a burden. Martín Shanly’s first feature, JUANA A LOS 12 (2014), was a portrait of a young girl in the upper-middle-class outskirts of Buenos Aires. Played by his own sister and accompanied by their mother, Juana attained moments of bliss in the grey nightmare of a life dictated by others. She began to realize she belonged to this latter category of person, and had to figure out how best to navigate it. Sometimes, when fed up or overwhelmed, she would act as a mirror, and reflect back to those around her an image of how she saw their lives. It was a dispute, full of tenderness and irreconcilable difference. From this small tension came the movements inside the film, far from the usual demands of beauty and information.
Played by Shanly himself, the central protagonist of ARTURO A LOS 30 (About 30) navigates similar waters, while this second feature carries a sense of accumulation and a new layer: there are not only two types of people, but there are also two types of films. In one we have first the world, followed by whatever happens in it: even if the macro is only evoked or present in a few seconds, it is ever-present, its rules and standards a backdrop for the gestures that operate as small refuges from the common. These are zoom-in films. Take King Vidor’s THE CROWD: we start from a big city with a gigantic skyscraper, moving to a room full of employees, each at its desk, before ending on a single man, John Sims, whose story is about to begin. What we see is the particular, but always in the context of the general.
The zoom-outs in ARTURO seem little, but they stretch by yards. With each new segment, we realize more and more that life is not a flat line, the accumulation of time on earth, but a compound of layers that includes the lives of others around us.
Then we have the opposite: zoom-out films, films in which the movements advance against the norm. We start with a picture devoid of context, a situation that appears a bit alien, and a character that is positively annoying. There is stillness and frustration, but little frame of reference. Then, having left us bewildered, slightly annoyed and unprepared, the film starts moving in earnest. Rather than any sense of the general, we’re here presented with a series of intertwined particulars alongside glimpses of larger pictures. The film follows the unemployed, former upper-middle-class Arturo in several moments in life, employing a very peculiar structure: whenever something bad happens, the narrative jumps to another personal memento, like a new tab in a browser. Every lurch is a little movement outward: we see his past, his friends, family, places he has been, and different stages of sadness and desperation.
The zoom-outs in ARTURO A LOS 30 seem little, but they stretch by yards. With each new segment, we realize more and more that life is not a flat line, the accumulation of time on earth, but a compound of layers that includes the lives of others around us. Every flashback ostensibly about our protagonist is, in fact, a moment of someone else’s life in which he was involved, a little moment of intimacy in which his life extended beyond himself. Every movement adds a layer of quiet feeling. Tragedy is revealed to be not a source—zoom-out films are not about sources—but a moment of depth. It is grief, the largest void, which gives the film its light, as it is in the land of the opposite.
As a comedy, ARTURO A LOS 30 is a dark one, and its humor is in every little distance the film traverses, as zooming-out is also a tone, a way of moving through the ever so slow pace of a scene. As it continues to open up, it is not only Arturo and his friends, his sister, and his mother who participate in everything that is hard and funny, but a small group of people. We’re granted glimpses of a particular class sector, mostly contained within a gated community, the space populated by a worker carrying a shotgun, greeted with smiles and waves; a teenager throwing up in the front port; a woman approaching two friends wearing some sort of bouncing shoes, people on stage interpreting body organs. And a little further along, the city shows up; moments in history return in a flash, like all those years, not so long ago, when abortion wasn’t yet legal. And then we see a country, emerging through a window of a long-distance bus—one of the typically Argentinian double-deckers with giant, reclinable seats, which cross the country in 24 hours—through the mountains down south, the public theatres in the city, the country clubs.
ARTURO A LOS 30 is a film that happens in a world almost exactly like ours, only with some improvements. First and foremost is a structure that liberates one from the burden of playing their part in the theatre that is life (blah), Instead, among others they can simply be; lovingly and conflictingly, the self and others form an odd but warm companionship, each coexisting in difference. In this touching structure, lasts shall be first.
Lucía Salas is a critic and programmer whose work navigates cinema, past and present.