Tuesday, April 07, 2009

LA VENTANA (THE WINDOW)—The Evening Class Interview With Carlos Sorín

The World Premiere of Carlos Sorín's La Ventana (The Window) at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival came and went as quietly as the film's narrative about the last day in the life of Antonio, an 80-year-old writer awaiting the visit of his estranged son on his hacienda in northern Patagonia. As he takes stock and reminisces, he looks out the window at his fields, the sun, the buzzing life that beckons him even as it fades before his eyes. Distinguished Argentine filmmaker Carlos Sorín once again trains his camera on the small stories written by life, on the humanity behind human beings. By casting the great Uruguayan writer and scriptwriter Antonio Larreta in the lead role, Sorín establishes a link between fiction and reality that makes the protagonist's fears, hopes and wishes even more palpable. Larreta won the Premio Planeta (the second most valuable literary award in the world after the Nobel Prize) for his 1980 novel Volavérunt.

Favorably reviewed by John Anderson at Variety who affirmed that "Sorín has constructed a reflective poem, one that's never solemn, always insightful and sometimes hilarious", Anderson also wrote that so much of the film's charm and art lies between the lines. "It's a film that needs to be actively watched, not passively experienced," he advised sagely. Sorín's "elegant" tale "mines a rich, deep vein of melancholy and humor."

La Ventana went on to win the FIPRESCI prize at the 2008 Valladolid International Film Festival, where Sorín was likewise nominated for the Golden Spike Award. I was delighted when Bavaria International advised that the film had been picked up for distribution by
Film Movement, who gave La Ventana its North American premiere at the 2009 Palm Springs International Film Festival, with a subsequent screening at the San Diego Latino Film Festival. Of related interest, La Ventana will screen in the World Cinema section of the 2009 San Francisco International Film Festival, where Jeremy Quist writes: "Sorín tells one of his 'minimal' stories here, as he did with his earlier masterpiece, Historias Mínimas, in which a series of seemingly inconsequential moments and details ultimately come together in a synthesis of life-affirming beauty."

My thanks to Stephen Lan and Bavaria International for making Sorín available for a brief interview while attending the Toronto International.

* * *

Michael Guillén: There's quite a difference between your previous film Bombon, El Perro and La Ventana. Both films have a distinct look and narrative approach; but, both adulate image. How do you structure your narratives through image?

Carlos Sorín: When I begin working on a film, it's like standing on shaky ground. I never know where I'm standing. My only sure footing is to make the movie. If the movie moves me and interests me, I presume it will move and interest others. At the same time, if I've made a good movie—as you've said of Bombon, El Perro—I try not to repeat it.

Guillén: La Ventana excels for its emotional gentility. It presents cycles within cycles: the cycle of Antonio's full life as measured in the cycle of his final day of life.

Sorín: Yes, this film is about cycles of time. I would have loved to indicate the passing hours throughout the movie but this had already been done in a film called Las Horas. La Ventana is about the end of a cycle of life; but this is in contrast to nature where the cycles continue.

Guillén: La Ventana succeeded in making me feel the rhythm of those cycles. Not only was there a sense of a clock ticking as time runs out; but, also the rhythmic ticking of a metronome.

Sorín: [Laughs.] Yes, yes. I used a metronome while shooting to maintain a rhythm. Though I didn't show it in the movie, I did use a metronome. Using a metronome while playing a piano is the same as keeping time, no?

Guillén: At your public screening of the film a couple of days back, you commented on the fact that you had not yet seen the finished film and that the public screening at TIFF was your first opportunity to do so. Now that you've seen it, are you satisfied? Do you have any thoughts?

Sorín: Yes, the public screening was my first time to see the finished film. Because I was nervous and anxious about seeing it for the first time, my vision was probably distorted. Watching your film for the first time with an audience is very hard. But I think the movie works. People stayed in their seats. They didn't leave. [Laughs.] That's good. I think it's the kind of movie that doesn't work on you immediately, yes? I think it works on you a little later. After. Yes? I don't know. La Ventana is not as immediately gratifying a film as Bombon, El Perro. It's a movie that's harder for the audience to take in, perhaps.

Guillén: I'd agree with that. I'm at an age where I've figuratively reached the middle of my life. I look forward and I see my grandparents and parents growing more frail daily as they approach old age and death. And I look back and see that my youth is definitely behind me. These recognitions are difficult.

Sorín: Of course. I understand, yes. The end of life happens to everyone and we have the examples of our parents to remind us that we all must grow old and die. La Ventana definitely evokes these feelings. That's why I try to take time with the film so that the spectator can locate and place his or her feelings and life experience into the film. The film happens within the spectator, more than on the screen.

Guillén: So the window becomes not just the physical window in Antonio's bedroom but the psychological window through which we all look within?

Sorín: Yes.

Guillén: Having made that metaphorical equation, I'm aware that you are a filmmaker who does not like to use images to mean specific or literal things. I know you want your audiences to feel your images. For example, at the public screening someone asked you what the piano specifically meant in the film. But I was more interested in the toy soldiers that Antonio's son Pablo (Jorge Diez) removed from within the piano wires where he had, obviously, placed them as a child, perhaps not wanting to do his piano lessons?

Sorín: Exactly! [Laughs.] To be honest, I didn't really think of it like that but it's a good idea!

Guillén: It was a poignant moment to have this man—who has become a concert pianist—pocket these toy soldiers that he used as a child to sabotage the piano lessons of his youth.

Sorín: That's a very good idea.

Guillén: I'm interested in your casting Uruguayan writer and scriptwriter Antonio Larreta in the lead role. Can you speak to what the differences are for you between the images of literature and the images of cinema?

Sorín: Aha! What a question! I think the images from literature are much more open and free because the written word in literature is ambiguous and the reader has to use his imagination to give the words meaning. By contrast, in cinema images are concrete and definite. They have been already imagined and leave only a little space for the imagination of the spectator. For that reason, it's difficult for me to make an ambiguous film.

Guillén: Yet your images are so pure that they lean into ambiguity.

Sorín: Thank you very much. It's very important for me to hear you say that. You soothe my anxieties and fears about this film.

Guillén: I understand that the next film you want to make is about a boxer?

Sorín: Yes, it will be totally different. It will be full of action. I'm not producing my next film; I've just been contracted to direct it. Boxing has been a passion of my life since I was a little boy. I love the sport and that is the only reason I accepted the contract to make the film. I have to make a film about boxing. It's about a famous Argentine boxer "Ringo" Bonavena who fought Muhammed Ali in the '70s and was later hired by the Mafia to fight in Nevada. In Hollywood, Taylor Hackford is actually making a movie starring Joe Pesci [Love Ranch] that talks about the Mustang Ranch where Bonavena was shot and killed.

Guillén: Well, they're signaling me that I need to wrap up here so I want to thank you, Carlos, for taking the time to speak with me today.

Sorín: Thank you.

Cross-published on

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