In his famous story ‘The story of your life’, Ted Chiang speculates on the possibility of an extraterrestrial language (or not so much so) that, in an essentially performative act, founds a world and even transforms the timeline: from rectilinear to circular; from successive from past to future to instantaneous in present continuous. Language does not represent anything. Language is simply everything. In reality, and from the most hallucinated extreme, the story that would later become the film ‘The arrival’ it does nothing more than state the obvious. You know, the vice of metaphors. The wonder’,the last movie of Sebastian Lelio based on the novel by Emma Donoghue edited in Spanish as ‘The Prodigy’, does not aspire to much, but almost. On paper it is an epochal drama revolving around a dubious miracle in famine Ireland in 1862, and in reality it is nothing more than a detailed, baroque, slightly ‘brechtian‘, pompous, dazzling and very sharp, all at once, testimony to what language is capable of with its power to found worlds. And, in fact, everything can.

With this work and with the presentation of the latest, also melancholy prodigy of the revered Korean director Hong Sangsoo, It could be said that San Sebastián left its prestigious international day for almost the end. with chinese tape ‘a woman’, of Wang Chao, the competition was concluded. And as the absolute star of all this, without a doubt, the Chilean film starring the actress of the moment Florence Pugh and produced by Netflix. Not a single film festival without the arguable glory of television streaming. Rare.

‘the wonder’ It starts with a map that will make more than one person take the ticket out of their pocket (or mobile) to see if they have entered the correct room. What Lelio teaches by way of presentation has nothing to do with an island off the coast of England two centuries ago. We will not say what is seen because of not killing the surprise completely, but the film starts as Pirandello himself would on a leisurely afternoon. It’s not a whim. In reality, and as strange as it may seem, I know and no other is the argument, the reason for being. As the director himself says: “The film itself is also the problem.”

Florence Pugh in ‘The Wonder’,

It tells of the arrival of a nurse in a town lashed by the wind and hunger who, commissioned by the old men of the place, supposedly wise and necessarily men, has to record a supposed miracle. The local glory is a girl (Kila Lord Cassidy) who stays alive despite not eating for months. Truth or trick? Faith or fanaticism? Patriarchy or patriarchy? Or in another much more pedestrian and modern way: Who owns the story? The hunger of before is not only for food, it is also for the history that nourishes everything.

What follows is a drama that is also intriguing, at times a horror story and, in an extreme case, even ‘western‘. In addition, it does not give up being a reflection on guilt, on what relieves it, on what condemns it and on hope. He sounds inordinate for the simple reason that he is. Lelio aspires to everything. The final surprise, the highest, the most delirious, is that, in truth, everything is nothing more than a story about the very possibility of stories, about who dictates them, about their political sense, about their ability to create the world. in the final performative act. And they are not aliens. They are men. That not women.

First of all, the ambition is impressive. Then, the majesty of a proposal that, despite the baroque style and even the pomposity of the mirrors, does not renounce the style that has determined the filmography of the director of ‘Glory’, ‘Disobedience’ Y ‘A fantastic woman (to quote the obvious and Oscar-winning). In the contrast between the disproportionate nature of telling everything and the almost cutting style of doing it with short phrases, almost functional shots and clean frames – all supported by a prodigious photograph by Ari Wegner, as it could not be otherwise – is a magnetic film that calls for mourning as well as liberation. Once again, the woman’s body is the center as a space for struggle and identity (that’s how it was in ‘Gloria’ and in all the others); again, religion as a scenario of domination (as it was in ‘Disobedience’), and… attentive to the bodily fluids that are exchanged (as in ‘Disobedience’ as well).

The result is a film that from risky gives in ‘metarisky‘ (it’s film and metafilm), so pushed to the limit of its coldness and credibility that it’s very easy to be left out. Even breaking the fourth wall on more than one occasion is allowed. And that is why there is nothing left but surrender. It is not exactly emotional despite the depth of the drama it handles, but, truthfully, when that time comes where everything is measured in emotions and emoticons, a bit of method is appreciated, a few drops of something minimally thought out, structured and properly thoughtful. And having said that, it is clear: language is everything, the story is the problem (here, a flamenco emoticon).

Director Hong Sangsoo poses with actor Kwon Hae-hyo at the presentation
Director Hong Sangsoo poses with actor Kwon Hae-hyo at the ‘Walk up’ performance.John SmithEFE


For the rest, the official section offered, along with a larger film, another of the same size. walk up It is the new work of the Korean something more than prolific Hong Sang-soo that, somehow, dances paired with ‘The novelist’, his penultimate work presented at the last edition of the Berlinale. If that one revolved around the doubts of a writer, this one, as is more usual in the director’s self-referential filmography, revolves around the blockade of a filmmaker who is Sangsoo, without a doubt, but in a different way.

walk up all of it takes place in a narrow building with many stairs and many rooms where you eat, drink, talk and even love. A filmmaker goes there with the arbitrary intention of introducing his daughter to an interior designer so that the former learns the trade. Soon, and as if from a vaguely talebeckettian‘ concerned, the film director is trapped in the building unable to do anything but strictly nothing.

Sangsoo being himself the same is now offered much more naked than ever. The film feeds on its extreme simplicity with the same passion as it does on its overflowing melancholy. The brilliant and almost faded construction of the time in which ‘Walk up’ lives only confirms that Sangsoo is who he is without leaving for a single moment of being another. To continue with the argument of the day, although in completely opposite sense, a superb prodigy.

And finally, ‘a woman’, chinese director Wang Chao. It’s funny how the ‘Zeitgeist‘, which the pedants would say with the German without approving, dictates the rules. The story we talked about at the beginning again. Chao tells the story of a woman who walks through life from man to man. She does it in the heat of the Chinese Maoist revolution that was there, supposedly, to liberate us all. The problem is precisely that it was ‘everyone’ in the literal sense. Not a single mention of ‘all’ (of ‘them all‘ we didn’t even speak).

‘a woman’ (A woman) portrays all possible forms of masculinity that could be said to be intrinsically toxic. The film advances across the screen without nuances, with an abrupt gesture and always aware of a suffering that does not end. We mentioned theZeitgeist‘ a few lines above because, stylistic nuances aside, it is the same film that Jaime Rosales also presented here earlier this week. ‘Wild Sunflowers’ Y ‘a woman’ they look in the same mirror. To crush it maybe.

As it is, the competition is over. Now all that remains to be seen is which film commands, which orders and gives meaning to the festival’s own reality. “The movie”, what would you say Sebastian in San Sebastian, “is the problem”.


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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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