Sunday, June 8, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) Cineastas (Luminato)

(photo by Carlos Furman)
Fictions of Cities
by Kallee Lins

Even while acknowledging that artists in the context of a festival like Luminato are rarely responsible for the content of their marketing, I tend to be wary of performances that explicitly promote their design and aesthetic concepts.  Cineastas’s formal experimentation, however, strongly serves its narrative content—albeit a delightfully fragmented one—making for a visually stunning performance and theatrically powerful production. 

Based on interviews with Argentinean filmmakers, Mariano Pensotti wrote and directed a story that flashes back and forth between the lives of four film directors over the course of a year as they film their latest projects in Buenos Aires. Mariana Tirantte has designed a split-level stage that allows the audience to simultaneously watch the filmmakers in their private lives in a home/office space on the bottom level, while scenes from the directors’ films take place on the sparsely decorated upper level. Alejandro Le Roux’s lighting design creates stark contrast between these two spaces with occasionally remarkable cinematic effect.

Most compelling is the story of Gabriel, an award-winning and commercially successful director who finds out he is terminally ill. With little time left to live, he goes about surreptitiously changing the script of his new comedy to document the events of his life.  We often find Gabriel and the actor playing his life performing simultaneous actions in both sections of the stage as Gabriel compulsively funnels his experiences into the new script. One particularly striking image occurs as Gabriel sits on a table while talking to a doctor at stage right with the mirror image happening above him.  It’s striking because of how different these mirror images are, and this turns out to be Gabriel’s lesson throughout the show. While flicking through film footage in his final days, he realizes the insurmountable difference between a real life and a represented one. 

We find the expected narrative trajectory of the characters’ personal lives shaping the films they’re working on. However, the strength of the show comes in the characters’ realization that the feedback loop running in the opposite direction holds the most truth. 

The final scene succinctly sums up the play’s concerns about the unstable division of art and life. (Spoiler alert.) Newly pregnant Mariela arrives at the Russian village of her grandparents finding herself in a folk gathering to celebrate the harvest. It’s quaint, picturesque, and she begins to tell herself that this is what she has been searching for while making a documentary about obscure Soviet-era musicals. 

Suddenly, the warm wash of stage lights switches to harsh streams of red, green and violet while the background piano music turns into harsh electro. It turns out she wandered onto the film set of a period drama. Shooting has wrapped, and the play ends as we watch Mariela standing motionless amid the raging after party. 

Cineastas is a visually opulent, formally innovative, thematically-rich performance with an incredible ensemble cast, though apparently, not everyone agrees with me. As I left the theatre, I overheard a man explain to his date that what they had witnessed was not unusual. “This is what theatre is all about these days. It’s entirely un-dramatic,” he declared, “all of that voiced-over narration.” Sure, Cineastas may be light on traditional dialogue, and granted, the characters take turns playing the role of narrator in order to highlight the rapid advancements, mishaps, and developments in each character's life/film. Rather than “undramatic,” however, the audience is treated to a deeper view of each life on display.  

The story at hand is the story of four lives that shift radically when examined through the lens of a video camera. Even though the filmmakers direct the cinematic eye away from themselves, at other events, places, and people, it ends up staring them in the face nonetheless. Each character comes to realize, “We don’t see cities. We see fictions of cities,” and the audience arrives at the same conclusions through the incredibly rich interplay of images. There is sometimes synchronicity, sometimes radical disjuncture, and sometimes seemingly no relationship whatsoever between the lives enacted in the bottom half of the split-screen stage, and the cinematic renderings on top. The result is an extraordinarily multi-faceted view of each character and the city they share.  

If the tall man in the white shirt wants to go back to a psychologically-based theatre in which each character must come to an understanding of the events in his or her life before relaying them to the audience, he can be my guest. I’ll take Pensotti’s cinematic patch-work of visual signifiers any day. 

June 7 - 9

Cineastas is in Spanish with English subtitles

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.