The ceremony of the mystery of life

The eight Hivos Tiger Award Nominees had their own special day at the festival. Our Young Film Critics, Archana Nathan, Taylor Hess, Martin Kudlaç and Rowan El Shimi, saw the nominees and wrote reviews on all of them.

'Bare essentialism' accurately describes the impressionistic feature debut of Paraguayanborn, Argentinean-taught filmmaker Pablo Lamar, who harnessed his previous experience as a sound engineer to the fullest in making his Tiger contender Last Land (La última tierra).

By IFFR Young Film Critic Martin Kudláç

Monday 1st of February International Film Festival Rotterdam While cutting his teeth on short films (I Hear You Scream, 2008; Noche adentro, 2010), Lamar worked as a sound engineer on various film projects. "I could really express myself working as a sound designer," Lamar explains of his fascination with sound “and making dialogue with images.” The non-dialogue cinematic venture into the solitude of an elderly couple in Last Land was written, directed and produced by Lamar, employing sound design to amend the viewing experience with transcendental touches and a ceremonious dimension. "The sound gives you the possibility to push the images into another space – soundspace – and I always love to be with one foot in the image and another outside the frame, with off-screen sound bringing a different quality and pointing towards the abstract," Lamar says of the dialogue vacuum and sound being the primary force in forging the solemn atmosphere in his fi lm.

Intimate, personal and intence

In carefully paced sequences of meticulously framed images, he follows an elderly couple (played by experienced actors Ramon Del Rio and Vera Valdez) as the man takes care of his wife before and after her last breath. The minimalism of the film resides in the essentialist choices encapsulated by just two characters, a small house and the restrained slow-burning action. The man carries out the last rites for his wife, albeit not exactly according to religious convention, rather in a highly intimate, personal and intense manner, conveying the weight of a strong bond interrupted. "When I was seventeen, I was walking in the countryside in Paraguay and I met two sisters living in a very small house, like the one you can see in the film. The younger woman, aged 92, was taking care of her older, bedridden sister aged 94," the filmmaker recollects of an experience that shaped Last Land and left a lasting imprint of old age on him.

profound contemplation and primal spirituality

However, the film extends way beyond the relationship of the central couple, touching on big themes of life and death. "My cinema deals with the big mystery of what life is," Lamar reflects on his previous works. For him, it is a leitmotif; the initial topic of Last Land and also a personal fascination that he examines through images and ambient sound. The whole affair unfolds in a lush forest beyond the reach of society, so the fundamental aspects of death and nature elevate the film and the viewing experience to a point of profound contemplation and primal spirituality.

Every gesture carries a ritualized echo, mounting into a liturgy within the church of nature, and serves to grasp the stupendous enigma of life and death. "Personally, for me, this film is meant to be a ritual, in general watching fi lms is a ritual," Lamar says. His filmmaking intends to create an immersive viewing experience. The overall minimalism, longer takes and observational mode of spectatorship contained therein stem from the realm of slow cinema aesthetics; a stylistic palette the director uses to forge the ruminative narrative and reflective immersion acknowledging the formative presence of Lisandro Alonso and Carlos Reygadas along invisible referential ties to the masters of cinema Andrei Tarkovsky, Alexander Sokurov and Carl Theodor Dreyer.