Reality was revealed, and I collapsed. It’s like a dream. Anything can happen. Anything.Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
When the camera is turned on and the lens absorbs what lands in front of it, it is impossible to separate fact from fiction. What we accept as reality is inevitably tinted by the glass of our preconceptions and prejudices. Bergman’s allusion in As in a Mirror (1961) goes down the same path and deepens how we understand reality by seeing our own lives reflected in the world around us. The new film by Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada (Miriam Miente, El Sitio de los Sitios) or should I say Oriol Estrada and Natalia Cabral? A Movie About Couples (2021) plays with narrative tones and satires the eagerness of filmmakers and viewers for pigeonholing cinematographic works.
The first frames throw us a bait that seems too much to us and we bite without hesitation only to realize minutes later that we have been outwitted. The documentary is the pretext to weave a fictional story that takes place in a very particular universe that constantly challenges the canons of cinema. The frustration after the premiere of one of their films moves Natalia and Oriol to look for a new source of inspiration, there the script begins to make its knot and with the encounter of a blind couple the search for a new job takes off. An appointment with a possible investor, creative blockages, shooting problems and relationship problems are the ingredients that are mixed for the directors’ speech to materialize.
This is not a movie about couples
Even the very title alludes to an absolute fiction, to a manipulated reality. A Film About Couples is rather a film about cinema, a film about those who make films and those who consume them. Wielding the codes of comedy, the film opens spaces in which to reflect on the profession of filmmaking and the motivations of the creators. Natalia and Oriol find the sharpness to make fun of themselves as they build a work that shows their maturity as filmmakers. The sharp dialogues and the staging exhibit a total mastery of the directors.
The cinematographic work of Nicolás Ordoñez (Window of time, The woman with 7 names) is one of the fundamental pillars of A Movie about Couples. The camera is located behind the characters and thus we see the passing of their lives, at other times we observe them from a distance while the emotional gap between them becomes larger and larger. To the rhythm of The Moldau by Bedřich Smetana, the images pay explicit homage to directors such as Yasujirô Ozu, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, among others, and there we are reminded that what we see is not real, that we live in the world that Natalia and Oriol have invented and that they have decided to embody themselves.
A Film About Couples uses humor to pave the way for empathy, and when it has us on its side it turns to the directors’ trademark exploration of the human spirit. It is difficult to know when those characters that adorn the story are acting or when they are showing their true colors. With every minute of footage, I couldn’t help but think about the most recent film by Alonso Ruizpalacios, A Cop Movie (2021) and the points in common at a conceptual level that the Mexican and the Dominican have. This is the best work of the young career of this couple of directors.