Friday, February 6, 2015

PuSh 2015: Cineastas

Argentine performance-maker Mariano Pensotti is back at this year's PuSh Festival with another experiment in theatrical framing, both narratively and visually in terms of mise-en-scène. Like El pasado es un animal grotesco, which played the Festival in 2012, Cineastas interweaves the stories of several young inhabitants of Buenos Aires. Also like his earlier work, the stories in Pensotti's Cineastas are mostly narrated to us in alternating serial fashion by one of the rotating cast of five, who pass among themselves several wireless handheld mics. The voiceover effect is even more appropriate in this latest piece, as its focus is on the different aesthetic, political and personal struggles of four filmmakers.

Gabriel is a celebrated director of blockbusters married to a beautiful second wife, and with a young daughter to whom he is devoted. His latest feature stars a hotshot actor from Mexico as a man obsessed with finding and winning back the woman who dumped him, only to discover that his beloved has left a trail of broken hearts in her wake. During the shoot Gabriel receives a terminal diagnosis and as he grows increasingly ill he starts to insert more from his own life into his film. Mariela makes experimental documentaries; her latest, an homage to her Russian heritage, is a dissection of Soviet-era musicals (a genre that, if it does exist, I definitely must explore in more depth). In the course of her research, Mariela, who is unhappily married to an older man, falls in love with Dmitry, a Russian émigré. When Dmitry returns suddenly to the motherland and fails to contact her, Mariela, who is now pregnant, decides that in order to complete her film she too must visit Moscow. Nadia's first film, an independent made on a shoestring and drawing for inspiration on the lives of her circle of friends, became a surprise hit. Now she is under pressure to follow up its success, this time with a big-budget film contracted to a major studio. However, when it becomes clear that Nadia is blocked and cannot deliver a script, the studio assigns her to another property it has been developing. The film is about one of Argentina's "disappeared," a man who suddenly reappears in his adult sons' lives. During the course of the shoot, Nadia begins to imagine that she sees her own father, who also vanished as part of the junta, among the crowd of extras on set. Finally, Lucas is a corporate drone toiling for McDonald's who is struggling to find the time and money to finish his exposé on the company's multinational malfeasance, a kidnapping allegory involving an executive who is forced to dress up as Ronald McDonald and hand out coupons on the street day after day. Almost by accident Lucas starts to advance through the ranks at his local franchise and as he becomes more and more seduced by the motivational entrepreneurialism of his higher-ups he starts to lose interest in his film--until a group of workers trying to unionize literally beats some sense back into him.

The foregoing account gives some sense of how text-heavy Cineastas is, which is a trademark of Pensotti's work more generally. But this is balanced out by the artist's acute visual sense, which manifests most immediately in Pensotti's elaborate sets. In El pasado, for example, the action unfolded on a revolving stage divided into four quadrants. Here, in Cineastas, we get a split-screen effect, with the set divided horizontally. Below is a space that to begin with is cluttered with furniture and other objects; alternately functioning as a production office, a kitchen or living room, and the restaurant where Lucas works, this is where the action of the characters' lives unfolds. Above this is a bare white space that serves as the soundstage for scenes from each of our would-be auteurs' films. These scenes are acted out live, of course; however, the precision and speed with which we alternate not just between the four "real-life" storylines, but also the fictional tales with which they necessarily dovetail, is the theatrical equivalent of cinematic montage. And that by the end of the piece the overstuffed lower half of the set is gradually stripped of all its props (the unobtrusively busy stagehand is a crucial sixth player in this effort), so that it becomes a mirror image of the top half, reveals that the greatest ongoing movie of our time is life itself--a closing lesson Mariela perhaps somewhat too obviously learns, in true Eisensteinian fashion, on the Russian steppes.


No comments: