Gastón Solnicki's Kékszakállú (2016) is having its exclusive online premiere on MUBI. It is showing from April 10 - May 10, 2018.
Who imagined, planned, and built the spaces we inhabit? How many people participated in the process and how many hours did it take them to culminate each building? What purposes did they seek to give us? Which of those purposes were meant solely for the spaces themselves? How many of these people’s own needs and purposes were renounced for the comfort and leisure of others? I suspect that these are some of the interrogations that start exploding as bombs in the mind of Laila (Laila Maltz) towards the final moments of Kékszakállú, Argentinian filmmaker Gastón Solnicki’s third feature film.
“I often recognize that we are not capable of looking at what we have in front of us unless it’s placed within a frame,” said Abbas Kiarostami. In Kékszakállú, Solnicki reaffirms this statement in the way he chooses to describe Laila’s social awakening. The frame, at the same time visible and invisible, expands itself as a wave through the different instances of consciousness that mark Laila’s phantasmagorical transit through life. My gaze becomes captive of those instances. The doors and windows that frame her in her father’s factory, her university, and summer house, that are simultaneously framed by Fernando Lockett and Diego Poleri’s camera, remind me of the faculties cinema possesses to limit and liberate.
Solnicki films in contemplation, elongating the time of each image so that it can speak by itself and be devoured by the spectators’ eyes. The first episode of Kékszakállú occurs during the daytime passages of a still summer in Punta del Este, whose most fierce agitation is that of the ocean’s waves and of the falling of the rain. The camera, standing always still, frames the characters in such a way that they end up being belittled by grand architectural achievements, or rather machineries of an overwhelming capitalist structure. In the film’s second part, summer’s leisure is confronted by the urban rhythms of Buenos Aires, where the main setting is the factory of Laila’s father. This is how we get to know her.
Laila Maltz’s face is familiar and mysterious all at once. No wonder it is the vanishing point of a wide spectrum of female faces in the film, which appear in vague rhythms. The same that exist in the limbo these girls are experiencing, one that hangs in the threshold between childhood and teenagehood, and between teenagehood and adulthood. Kékszakállú incarnates those states, sowing a profound desire to see. For that reason each misstep in Laila’s existential dilemma and eventual awakening is fascinating to see, and without too many clues along the way, they lead to an eerie and strangely heroic culmination.
Kékszakállú is a film that invokes ghosts. One of them is Béla Bartók, whose musical compositions burst episodically, confronting the inertia of the world portrayed by delving into its fissures. Solnicki invokes the only opera of the Hungarian composer through impressions of light, structure and emotion that are positioned in the film’s foreground, preceding any possible sense of story. Then we have the symbiosis between the women of the film and the hidden point that catches their gazes, which Solnicki refuses to reveal. It’s as if each of them could be standing in front of the doors of Bluebeard’s Castle, the subject of Bartók’s opera. Solnicki emphasizes the framing of the camera in order to give the spectator the liberty to reckon what stands outside of it.
Like the rest of the women portrayed in the film, but with more intensity and fragility, Laila experiments with the loss of her innocence by discovering the surface, just the surface of the world that lies below her feet. Not only below her feet but also on the sides and inside of her gaze ghosts are present. They come to life and endow Kékszakállú with a floating sense of menace and grace. Laila’s loneliness not only speaks to that of her generation, but also of her social class. The wide open, empty spaces that Laila transits are inhabited by the ghosts of capitalism, industrialism, inequality and privilege. Her place in the world is defined there. Kékszakállú speaks of geometries, and through its vertical lines it speaks of the hierarchies that frame the everyday nature of Solnicki’s Buenos Aires and Punta del Este.
Despite the architectural notions of structure that constitute the characters’ states of social and individual consciousness, the instances in which that world seems to be less governed by them is when Solnicki explores childhood. In the film’s opening scene, some children jump again and again in a pool in Punta del Este. When the night comes they will be sleeping with the peace that some may yearn for, and when the next day comes they will repeat the cycle. And they will do it without the existential nuisance of knowing that they are the best at finding a breath in face of summer’s perpetual heat. The children jump in the pool as an antidote to the heat, the monotony and the status quo. And they repeat the jump again and again, creating a monotony of unconscious resistance.
Later on in the film, Laila phantasmagorically walks through her father’s factory, perhaps in search of that same sensation. Outside, she stands in front of a big ventilator that resembles the eye of a hurricane trapping her, one which she has the liberty of moving away from but not the agency to do so. This is perhaps the existential dilemma that best describes Laila’s path. In previous scenes, Solnicki portrays two little girls; one of them doubting jumping into the pool and the other trying to fit into a tent that cannot contain her anymore because she has grown up. Perhaps it is they who will be able to deconstruct the frame that limits them. Solnicki deposits hope in childhood, but also contemplates the possibility that Laila could exist outside of the frames of teenagehood.
Solnicki captures the fugacity of this particular moment. As the impressionists did with the idyllic summers of a French high class in the nineteenth century, he does with an Argentinian high class on the verge of decadence. This impressionistic act also becomes present in the portrayal of that fleeting, almost externally imperceptible moment of the passage to teenagehood and adulthood the film’s women go through. These are undoubtedly worlds in crisis and perhaps the film’s most subtle but timely virtue in understanding them is the sense of humor Solnicki retains. Kékszakállú is a film composed of impressions—not truths—that are presented to us in the painting of internal landscapes captured at a very specific social and generational moment.