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VENICE 2007 Horizons

Portabella’s variations on Bach


Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella presented his Die Stille vor Bach (li. "The Silence before Bach") in Venice in the Horizons section as the festival is drawing to a close. Unlike what the title might seem to suggest, the film explores how Bach’s music has influenced people since its creation.

Portabella, who co-wrote the film with composer Carles Santos and Xavier Albertí, playfully assembles unconnected vignettes that are set during Bach’s lifetime, Felix Mendelssohn’s lifetime -- when, according to legend, a piece of meat from his butcher came wrapped in Bach’s manuscript of the St Matthew’s Passion, which finally led to a Bach revival -- and in the present. For the composers, Portabella has not cast actors but musicians: German organist Christian Bembeck stars as Bach, while Spanish pianist Daniel Ligoria plays Mendelssohn.

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Though like in Portabella’s other films there is no cause-effect narrative to speak of, some of the film’s images are as striking as Bach’s music, such as a silent shot of a piano falling into the turquoise sea from a great height, or an underground carriage filled with youthful cellists playing a suite from Bach while the vehicle winds its way through the dark corridors. Several shots of a playing pianola underline the idea that Bach’s music exists on its own, without the need for a musician to make it come alive.

“Europe grants it nationality,” the director explained of his film largely made in Germany and with a German title. “Europe is the emotional, symbolic, historical and political backdrop of the film, the stage on which it takes place”.

The film was produced by Films 59 (who also handle international sales), with the support of ICAA, Institut Català de les Indústries Culturals, Catalan Films & TV and Televisió de Catalunya.

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