“Others will dream that I am mad,
and I of the Zahir.
When all men on earth think day and night of the Zahir,
which one will be a dream and which a reality, the earth or the Zahir?”
-Jorge Luis Borges
José Luis Guerin, a Spanish filmmaker and educator, is amongst the most innovative European filmmakers. In ‘In the City of Sylvia’ he portrays a young man in search of a woman, Sylvia, whom he met years ago, a dreamlike memory of his, almost frozen in time.
The protagonist referred simply as ‘He’ waits in a hotel and sketches the people there. His sketch pad is a myriad of frenzied capturing of expressions, hand movements, lips, napes, jaw lines, face cuts, body movements, almost making the people faceless. Snippets of conversations and fleeting images of people, through his gaze, an artist’s gaze — one that lingers a little longer than necessary, makes up most of the movie.
Devoid of any language this movie is haunting and appealing on a very sensory level, at the same time an intelligent portrayal of the human condition. One example would be the old lady sitting by the road side in dirty tatters and the beer can rolling out of her hand – the sound of its rolling motion continuing long after the can was out of view. It is such detailed attention to the city sounds and other visual nuances that appeal on a subliminal way to the viewer. This movie is like a painting, which flows beautifully into many colors, many emotions … it’s an artist’s perusal of his muse; it’s the unforgettable fragrance of love…
As an interesting companion to the movie José Luis Guerin has created a photo exhibition called Unas fotos en la ciudad de Sylvia in which beautiful black and white digital cinematography alternates between moving and still images, stitching together a cinematic sketchbook for In the City of Sylvia.
J. Hoberman aptly says “In the City of Sylvia is pure pleasure and pure cinema.”