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Letters from Lockdown #1: Rodrigo Garay

As the year wound to a close, the Berlinale Talent Press Class of 2020 began to look back, focusing on the good amongst all the strange. It inspired them to begin a correspondence to highlight their favourite films of the year. An exercise they originally undertook in a different world, pre-pandemic Berlinale Talents ten months earlier, spawned a reconnection. Here's what Rodrigo Garay had to say...

Dear friends,

A rush of excitement goes through me as I write for (and alongside) you once more. Our adventure in Talent Press was definitely the highlight of my year —even if we spent most of our time together inside office buildings and movie theatres, I think the freezing rain and the spikes of adrenaline make it count as an adventure. Now that we’re set to share our top 5 films of 2020 and discuss them in this correspondence, I’m reminded of how nourishing our little club was. Whether if it’s for discovery (I need Maja’s guidance on the Asian indie scene and Jakob’s take on Kossakovsky because I missed Gunda every time) or for revisiting something with a new perspective (Savina’s love of Undine is seriously contagious), the prospect of reading your letters in the upcoming days makes my winter a lot brighter.

This year has turned me into a different person —given the status of the world, I guess the feeling is understandable— and I think I’m in the process of accepting this post-apocalyptic version of myself that is still in the aftermath of a tough break-up, a professional hiccup and, well, a global pandemic. Part of that process shows in the movies I picked. Take Matías Piñeiro’s Isabella, probably my favorite of the five. Its main character, Mariel, is an actress dealing with a vocational crisis that overlaps in different moments of her life. The first time I saw it, at Berlinale, I was impressed by its spontaneous time shifts; paired with a very particular use of colour, they gave the sensation of watching a narrative kaleidoscope. Months later, when I rewatched it at FICValdivia (a festival that took place entirely on my TV), I was instead moved by Mariel’s melancholy as she dealt with failure, insecurity and ambivalent relationships; moving past the beautifully intricate mechanism of its montage, the more humane aspects of Isabella finally got to me.

The other four on my list are there because of emotional reasons as well. Even Malmkrog, which has been mostly dismissed (or embraced) as an intellectual piece, I find inspiring. The two opposite angles towards Christ/Antichrist that clash in Puiu’s adaptation of War and Christianity have a lot to say to my unreligious heart. Reason versus faith and the end of the world. A similar sense of duality is what attracted me to Collector’s Item, in a way. Dalia Huerta is a young Mexican filmmaker that has made incredible short essays; paired with the fast-paced, modern imagery of Eula Biss’s prose (Eula penned the voice-over, Dalia shot and edited the images that fuse with it), she composed an outstanding film poem that deals with consumerism, the soul of everyday objects and the vacancy of our living spaces.

Speaking of poetry, The Metamorphosis of Birds reminded me of what a great combo formalism with strong lyrical roots is (like in the works of Manoel de Oliveira or Rita Azevedo Gomes). Catarina Vasconcelos hit all the right notes. The ode she crafted for her family made me think of my own parents and my sister. Of my grandparents’ house. It made me remember that I’ve forgotten how to play piano and it made me feel sorry for every love letter that is doomed to meet the pyre for me to move forward. I was happy to see this on Lili’s list and curious to know if she also thought of her family while watching. Or if a Portuguese house relates to a German house the way it does to a Mexican one (or a house in Australia or Bangladesh or Poland...).

I hope Adina and Sadia will tell us more about The Woman Who Ran. Remember when the entire Theater am Potsdamer Platz erupted into laughter at the same time? All Hong needed to do was zoom in on a cat. Since I don’t really mind watching everything on a flatscreen and in the comfort of home, I can’t mourn the (temporary as ever) death of cinemas, but to share such a vivid impression with so many people, as if we were all having a single simultaneous feeling, will certainly be precious to live again. Some say that’s what cinema is all about. I have my doubts.


P.S. As per Debbie’s wonderful suggestion, some honorable mentions of non-2020 films that I saw this year for the first time and loved to bits: Alain Cavalier’s Le filmeur (2005), Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute (1975), Akira Nagai’s If Cats Disappeared from the World (2016) and Whit Stillman’s delightful trilogy of Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994) and The Last Days of Disco (1998).