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Travel journal #2: It’s all in the eyes.

Sometimes I like to think that the eyes of filmmakers, the way they look at you, offer clues to their films, and that by closely observing them it might be possible to make out something of the way they relate to others and the world around them. So, just for fun and with no claims whatsoever to any definitive judgement, I thought I’d characterise a set of images that have remained burned into my memory, as follows below. Maybe as a way of repaying some of the warmth and affection I encountered on my Latin American travels.

I’m on my way back from a transfer at Buenos Aires, loaded down with films to view and a whole heap of proposals. I’m returning without having been able to get a real feel for this polymorphous city that extends into the plain on the western estuary of the Rio de la Plata. I’ve seen hardly anything of the city that is divided into barrios, each of which has its own distinctive style and autonomy. As pampered guests of Ventana Sur, the impeccably organised Argentine Film Market, we were confined to the new and well-run district of Puerto Madero, and thus protected from the city’s siren calls. But a little of Buenos Aires still managed to get through to us via some of its residents. Like the crest of a wave rolling into the film market, Argentinean directors (and some who weren’t) tried to take us beyond the red walls of the papal (sic!) university hosting the event. Some, as if worried about being taken for producers or sales agents, preferred to hang out around the entrance, and thus pick up a few gringos on their way in. And I must say their methods certainly proved effective.

Manuel lives in Montevideo. He’s keen to point out that that his city, unlike BA, is on a hill and so always enjoys a cooling breeze. Maybe, in the fierce Argentinean heat here he finds solace in the memory of that gentle breeze. Sometimes he closes his eyes when talking. It’s just a momentary thing, hardly noticeable. But that gesture, accompanied by a slight nod of the head, adds to an impression of austerity about him. I have yet to see his film, but I imagine it is like its director: calm yet only superficially so, like a river with hidden currents roiling beneath its placid surface.

Guillermo is from Uruguay. Unlike Manuel he’s stocky in build, and modest in manner. His banjo eyes– if I remember correctly – are partially obscured by his tumbling locks and a pair of large-framed glasses. I met him one morning. First thing he did was to open a thermos and pour a little hot water into his cup to make mate tea. Between sips we talked about films and his new project, which I find hard to characterise.

Lisandro has dark eyes, small but incandescent. They’re like that all the time, regardless of the situation, and so give the impression that he’s interested in absolutely everything and everyone around him. Maybe that’s why, when he has to go filming, he likes to remove himself from the excitements of the city. Maybe that’s also why, when he’s shooting, he manages to capture hidden movements beneath what is apparently immobile in nature.

Like some of the characters in his films, Pablo has a childlike gaze. He’s one of those people who smiles through his eyes – which somehow gives a real sense of ease and calm to communications with him. When I look at him, it’s hard to reconcile this with the way his stories are so tied to urban experience, and feature people battling against life’s hardships. So I tell myself I should look harder. But he’d rather go dancing with his very beautiful partner in life and work. Good for him!

Santiago is tall. When he talks, he never looks you directly in the eye, creating a sense of distance between you. But in fact he has an innate affability about him. I have met him two or three times before, always only briefly. Thinking about the film he made a couple of years ago made me think that he, like his protagonist, must know how to play the charm game. And like all charmers he prefers to listen rather than to talk.

Ariel is clear-eyed, yet there’s a touch of nostalgia in his expression, something remote, or that somehow extends beyond his present interlocutor. This often makes our conversation feel like it’s happening on two different levels: one, in the here and now of the words, the other somewhere else, deep in thought. And so without even realising it, talking about past and future films, I find myself on the road again.

Carlo Chatrian

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