In the passing of time
by Fabien Lemercier
- Shot over four seasons in a shrinking village in North Spain. A first feature, subtle and poetic documentary by Mercedes Alvarez
Documentaries used to form part of specialized sections of the cinema industry. It has however proved its worth on the big screen since a few years, arousing distributors' ambition and the public's interest. This particular trend which reveals extremely varied talented people thanks to the great freedom of style that 'genre' allows now has a new original figure coming from Spain, Mercedes Alvarez. The Sky Turns, her first feature documentary, is gathering awards through festivals (Rotterdam, Paris, Buenos Aires...). An amazing international fate for a film focused on a tiny village of 14 remaining inhabitants in the North of the Iberia Peninsula, in the Soria region, in Castile and Leon. Last child ever born in La Aldea, the filmmaker left the village at three years old. She now decided to return as an adult in her native village, but this time with her camera, in the very heart of that desert landscape where most people have been relocating for several decades. This rural depopulation which only left a few old people looks like approaching death. But the director's art aims at discovering in it an additional metamorphosis on the passing of time. On a quiet tempo in keeping with its characters' mentality, Mercedes Alvarez is progressively weaving a network of historical links which puts the last residents of Aldea in several temporal cycles. Last remnants of a roman town, an Arab tower still standing in the middle of the village, memories of the Spanish civil war..., time left many marks as deep as the legendary dinosaurs an old woman is showing on the camera. In the mean time, the American planes are heading towards Iraq, keeping the laconic conversations of three inhabitants sitting in the village square going on.
The Sky Turns with a voice-over commentary involving the filmmaker in the world which unfolds before her eyes, gently spreads a subjective charm as powerful as indescribable, immerging the spectator in the inhabitants' intimacy without never violating it, allowing his thoughts to wander by lightening all the documentary's mechanical disposals. A feat achieved thanks to a perfect integration in the village's life (where the filmmaker spent a whole year preparing her documentary) and a sophisticated editing with action dialogues and historical flash-backs. But above the technical command of her subject, Mercedes Alvarez manages to recreate perfectly the humanity of those nearly forgotten men and women, including the fishmonger who does not come anymore and the baker who still comes two or three times a week but who leaves within five minutes if no one comes out. And what could we say about the two main Spanish political parties which respectively send a car (with loudspeaker and music) so as to stick electoral bills in front of the amazed and quiet residents of Aldea. And those two Moroccans, a shepherd and an international athlete who meet on a road in the middle of nowhere conversing for a few minutes and cheerfully reminding themselves that this land was once Arab. Simple moments captured by a discreet camera which prefers exploring the light and the landscapes through the four seasons which rhythms the shooting. And by symbolically linking the village history to that of the painter Pello Azekta who is slowly losing his sight, The Sky Turns and its direction style with small touches, ends up in creating a poetic painting, a film as fluid as the passing of time.
(Translated from French)