Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 03, 2007 9:20 am 
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A hunt for love and beauty?

"He" (Xavier Lafitte) is a long-haired, poetic-looking young man. In the opening shot he sits on his bed in a small hotel in Strasbourg staring into space. It's a long take; he barely moves, signaling the style of this film: abstract, meditative, visual. "She" (Pilar López de Ayala) is, he thinks, Sylvie, a young woman he met six years ago. The film's 84 minutes are divided into three "nights." "He" sits for a long time at cafés, watching the woman. It's summer, and the women are beautiful. At times he seems about to speak, but he doesn't. Finally after a second, longer sit at a very busy café near the conservatory, where women are playing stringed instruments, as he sketches in his notebook, he spots "her." And eventually he gets up to follow her when she leaves. Trying to hide that he's stalking her, he dodges behind corners. At one point he loses her. He waits a long time when she's indoors, then takes up the chase again. Once he comes close to her and says "Sylvie"? But she doesn't hear or doesn't respond.

On a streetcar, he finally summons up the courage to have a conversation with her. Politely, she tells him that she is not Sylvie. She has only been in town for a year. "A disaster," she says. "A disaster," he says too. "It's not nice to follow someone," she says. She reveals that she knew, and tried to shake him off, and it went on for hours, and was very unpleasant for her. He apologizes profusely. Then she tells him her stop is coming, and she hopes he won't get off. Of course not, he says.

Sadness in his face.

A noisy bar in the evening reveals him sitting next to another pretty, brown-haired young woman. He says things, poetic things no doubt, into her hair. Then she gets up and dances with another man. Is she more interested in him? But "the third night" reveals her beside the protagonist in bed.

His next day he sits till dusk at a bus stop, again watching people.

Guerin, who has won prizes for his films, especially his 2001 documentary Under Construction (and Sylvia was nominated for the Golden Lion at Venice this year), is a masterful people-watcher. In the City of Sylvia is beautifully shot, and makes superb use of the chance (and sometimes perhaps imposed) symbolism of street graffiti and ordinary people going about their daily takes. Strasbourg itself is the real subject of this film: in summer, it's open, airy, peaceful, lovely.Another subject is the hunt for love. Is "he" shy and hopelessly romantic? Or is his search for "Sylvie" just an excuse, a sham--or a scam? We have to decide by ourselves. The film is open-ended. You project yourself into it. For me it brought back some very familiar emotions of that time in my own life.

Shown as an official selection of the 2007 New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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