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H

H

[…] Of all films concerning death, this must be one of the liveliest, by reason of its credo and manners of representing the past – those of Walter Benjamin – as well as its ludic way of showing performing concepts on the move.

[…] «H» is an unexpected (and completely unrelated) respiro – its gaze, movement, angles, its entire artistic biorhythm is human; or rather humanlike, since the mystical atmosphere suggests, when not secularized by shadows, a ghostly look from an otherworldly spectator.

Ghost Images

If Carlos Pardo Ros’s H belongs to an intellectual cinema, a cinema of ideas rather than emotions, then its petite, elastic form reminds of the bounciest notes written by our essayists. As such, of all films concerning death, this must be one of the liveliest, by reason of its credo and manners of representing the past – those of Walter Benjamin – as well as its ludic way of showing performing concepts on the move.

Time is a stage of restages; hence the lacunar death of a certain Spaniard named H., haphazardly killed by a bull on 1969’s celebration days of San Fermín in the city of Pamplona, asks Carlos Pardo Ros for a stageable narrative; and the director owes it one, for H. was his uncle whose hours before the sudden takeoff escape documentation. As the written introduction of the film states, little is known about what he did between early afternoon and late at night. The equation to an unknown includes a blue shirt, worn on a night when everyone dresses in white due to custom, a hotel room where he never checked in, 4400 pesetas, a keyring with his initial and a nurse who claimed to have danced with him that night. The very quick answer to such mathematics? Fiction, of course. Nevertheless the director takes his time – in such a hurried film! – for some more abstract additions and subtractions, never equalizing, because «to articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it “the way it really was” (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger» (Benjamin). As such, fiction would seem impiously sealed for the open-ended history, so the approach shapes itself into prudent speculation of the past through observing and provoking episodes of the present. Inevitably, writing these words at the very moment of Orthodox Easter makes me wonder when the time of a Benjaminian The Passion of the Christ film will come.

Once again, inevitably, much of my enthusiasm for Pardo Ros’ approach has to do with its reckless handheld camera, for I like many others witnessed a criminal war from afar, and have become more and more uneasy apropos the dronification and satellization of images. As such, H. is an unexpected (and completely unrelated) respiro – its gaze, movement, angles, its entire artistic biorhythm is human; or rather humanlike, since the mystical atmosphere suggests, when not secularized by shadows, a ghostly look from an otherworldly spectator: H. himself, fused with the camera.

He (it) is watching four young men restaging what could’ve been his – its – last hours. Not one, but four, in an attempt to radicalize the unableness of spectatorial relating. The young men, Pedro, Leo, Itsaso and Julio, jump in and out of shots one at a time, each in a blue shirt or jacket. 1969 is long gone; the diegetic celebration of San Fermín belongs to the now, first in sound, by possible vocal messages that a contemporary H. is receiving and sometimes answering in voice-over, and later in image, with glimpses of smartphones here and there, and eventually everywhere. Filming on the spot, playing it as it lays, the director makes use of the massive mise-en-scène that the streets of Pamplona have to offer on the nights of San Fermín. With everyone cheering and dancing around fanfares and cheap carny thrills, white clothes all over and neon lights, it has the looks and vibes of an ABBA musical in its loca after hours. All this, of course, makes the imponderable history of this particular death more unsettling: a nonchalant dance on a funeral grave, followed and cut by a quick camera under the influence.

Pardo Ros, however, doesn’t seem to fully trust his means; most intrigued viewers won’t mind the repetitiveness, the confusion of it all, but its impurity. The recurring voice messages lose their way once they start “directing” the atmosphere by emphasizing tropes of prophetic angst («Have you noticed anything odd?», «But this is not your decision. It is over you») and wise mumbo jumbo: «…get lost and I’ll find you», «Have you ever thought while fucking: “I want to marry you”?». This mostly comes from a dialogue between a him and a her, some poetic touch to the memory that flashes up at a moment of danger, while the truly interesting ones belong to small, mundane messages about... whatever. There’s much power in showing a man dancing his last minutes, or talking about nothing in particular, as we do for most of our lives. H. could have been charming precisely because it seemed to entrust its viewers with interest in an ordinary unordinary death, which eventually became extraordinary. However, the extraordinary rarely outsmarts the uncommon; and never the common.

 

First published: April 27, 2022

H | Film | Carlos Pardo Ros | ES 2022 | 67’ | Visions du Réel Nyon 2022

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