No todo es vigilia: Life as a couple at 80
by Alfonso Rivera
- Few titles show the routine of people entering the final stretch of their lives so realistically, soothingly and truthfully as this documentary by Hermes Paralluelo
After being presented in the New Directors section of the most recent edition of the San Sebastián Film Festival, snagging a Special Mention at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and, most recently, turning heads at the D’A Festival in Barcelona and DocumentaMadrid, the second feature by Hermes Paralluelo (Barcelona, 1981) is landing in commercial Spanish theatres, in the wake of his highly acclaimed debut, Yatasto (winner of Best Documentary in Málaga in 2012 and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Viennale in 2011). No todo es vigilia [+see also:
film profile] (lit. “Not Everything Is Wakefulness”) borrows its title from Argentinean author Macedonio Fernández, and the director filmed the movie over a number of months, with the invaluable collaboration and utter dedication of his own grandparents.
The couple are Antonio and Felisa. They are both over 80 years old and are now, after decades of marriage, almost like a single body. In the first part of No todo es vigilia, we see them in a Zaragoza hospital, an inhospitable, disagreeable, orderly and cold place where Antonio is undergoing medical tests. When his stretcher is not parked in the middle of a corridor, is it being pushed around by the nurses with the kind of impersonal efficiency that one encounters so regularly in these centres. Meanwhile, Felisa clings to her Zimmer frame as she searches for him, alone, through the gloomy hallways. The shadows and metallic noises create a ghostly atmosphere, almost as if they were on board a space ship, where these two aliens feel trapped, lost and helpless.
Once back at their house in the town of Vinuesa (Soria), the couple get back to their normal routine. The light turns warmer and the spaces are recognisable for Antonio and Felisa. There’s that alarm clock they were given as a present by the bank, which they don’t know how to turn off, and the certified letter that could perhaps be a threat to admit them into a retirement home, an idea that terrifies the poor elderly woman, who says that she would prefer to die among her belongings. Whereas at the medical centre the camera was fixed, composing static shots (periodically interrupted by high-angle shots of Antonio lying down on his bed, with the camera placed above his head while he recounts his most cherished memories), now Paralluelo uses tracking shots that lead us gradually from one room to another, illustrating the unbreakable bond that unites the partners, boasting such a level of communication that it is even able to overcome the man’s hearing impairment. As in the films of Terence Davies, the backlighting tirelessly sought out by the Red Epic camera used in this documentary strips them down to the very basics.
In this way, Paralluelo offers us a harsh but authentic portrait of what it means to be an elderly person. And he does it with respect, tenderness and admiration for this love that has stayed intact over the years – something that their bodies have not managed to achieve, which is evident as they shuffle slowly in front of the lens. This physical slowdown also affects the pace of the movie, which can become tiring for the viewer who may not be accustomed to the films of Ozu, that great maestro whom the director confesses is a role model of his.
No todo es vigilia is a Spanish-Colombian co-production between Janus Films, Televisión de Aragón, Televisión Española and El dedo en el ojo; the latter firm is also in charge of its international sales.
(Translated from Spanish)