MUBI is partnering with the New York Film Festival to present highlights from Projections, a festival program of film and video work that expands upon our notions of what the moving image can do and be. Camilo Restrepo's Cilaos (2016) is showing on MUBI in the United States from October 16 - November 14, 2016.
My urge to make Cilaos came from my encounter with the Reunionese singer Christine Salem. Although I knew nothing whatsoever about the culture of Reunion Island, I was struck by its resemblance to the culture of Colombia, where I grew up. The stories about Reunion Island that I learned from Christine echoed the South American stories and legends of my childhood. It was really striking to see the extent to which two such geographically distant regions of the world continue to share, through their common colonial past, the myths, beliefs and rhythms of the African peoples who were brought there.
With Cilaos, I wanted to explore this shared heritage, and to show the resonances that exist between the Reunionese and South American cultures.
Music is one of the main features the two cultures share. So it was only natural to grant it a large place in the film. “Maloya,” from Reunion, and “mapalé,” from Colombia, are both slave rhythms. Through repetition, these rhythms provide access to a liberating spiritual dimension, a trance. Maloya has retained its mystical power. During “servis kabar,” ceremonies driven by the sound of maloya, the voices of the ancestors sometimes burst from the mouth of “mediums” borne by a trance state. Music plays a key role in these ceremonies. Ancestors only appear when they like the music and the singing. Even once communication has been established, it can be broken off by a poor rhythm change that upsets the spirit. So it’s no surprise that the mediums are also excellent musicians. Christine Salem, one of the great voices of Reunionese maloya, is one of those mediums.
In certain belief systems in both Reunion Island and Latin America, a tight bond is maintained between the dead and the living. That is how the living can ask the dead for all sorts of favors—health, money, love, etc. But that bond is above all a conception of space and time. The past, the present and the future are not linked in a straightforward succession. The dead are still present, and they dictate fate, which can shift at any time depending on the behavior of the living. I wanted to explore that loss of landmarks, that scrambling of time, cinematographically. I had in mind the novel Pedro Páramo, by the Mexican author Juan Rulfo, which intertwines the voices of the dead with those of the living. The film’s subject matter is loosely inspired by the first lines of that novel. Rooted in Reunion Island, Cilaos tells the tale of a journey through an elusive space. A tale of searching for oneself, of exploring one’s roots, in an expanded temporality in which past situations float back up to the surface. The tale, perhaps, of an emancipation.
Cilaos is a village on Reunion Island where runaway slaves found freedom in the then uninhabited mountains in the island’s interior. The word Cilaos comes from the Malagasy expression “tsy laozana,” which means “the place that you don’t leave.” Not a bad definition of death, right?