By Holly Jones
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Following a successful festival circuit run after its world premiere at San Sebastian, Madrid-based Latido Films is bringing Carlos Saura’s (“Carmen”) inquisitive documentary “Walls Can Talk” (“Las Paredes Hablan”) to Buenos Aires.
Screening as a highlight of Ventana’s Sur’s Spanish Screenings On Tour strand, which seeks to capture the country’s extraordinary output in 2022, the project ponders art in its most primitive, emotive form. Doing so, Saura, now a vigorous near 91, implicitly asks why he has dedicated his now long career, which reaches back to the 1950s, to art, photography, cinema and theater.
With a curious eye and a sympathetic spirit, Saura, whose movies include such classics as “Raise Ravens” and Berlin Golden Bear winner “Deprisa Deprisa,” allows viewers to dissect the paleolithic cave paintings of the Altamira, Chauvet and Lascaux alongside sprawling urban murals crafted by notable street artists Suso 33, Zeta and Musa 71.
Saura takes on the role of engaged inquisitor as he communes, front-of-camera, with creatives and academics, coaxing out ties to the past from those who continue to admire and create these highly intimate depictions.
Highlighted is the use of raw textures on the walls and caves, an apt canvas for an artist’s latent expression to develop, a blank and fertile space that tangles itself up in the finished work, adding immeasurable depth.
A nod to movement, a later scene depicts Musa 71 at work, describing her style. The lens captures the neon letters of her signature bubbling over a neighboring sketch, creating an ebb and flow similar to those found in the ancient drawings of bison with airborne front legs that take on an animated motion, bringing them to life under the emerald-hued overgrowth of the Spanish countryside.
By film’s end, a near-perfect circle has formed, and Suso 33’s expressions of the world around him are splayed loudly on Madrid’s sky-high brick and mortar. As the denizens walk briskly by, Saura hones in.
Tackling such a profound concept in just over an hour is ambitious, yet the film succeeds in kicking-off the conversation, providing rich fodder to contemplate at leisure.
“Las Paredes Hablan” was produced by María Del Puy Alvarado at Madrid’s Malvalanda, behind Maite Alberdi’s touching Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Mole Agent,” and Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s Oscar-nominated short film, “Madre.” Associate producer credits go to Anna Saura.
Latido Films holds international sales rights, and the project is distributed in Spain by José Maria and Miguel Morales’ Wanda Vision.
Ahead of the film’s screening at Ventana Sur, Saura spoke with Variety about remaining curious, documenting a scene and artistic impulse.
I can see the emotion for art in your eyes as you talk to the subjects of your film. It’s a palpable and contagious wonderment. Can you speak to keeping that magic alive through learning more about various forms of art, about people, the world?
I’m 90 years old, about to turn 91, and every day I learn something new. I’m now preparing a couple of plays, and every day something new happens that makes me extremely curious. I ask a lot of questions, and I ask them to myself.
Earlier in my life I was a teacher at the Film School. I don’t know if I was a great teacher, I left shortly, and I haven’t given classes again. In this sense, I believe that curiosity must be the basis of education, and it’s something that you have, or you don’t have: it’s very difficult to educate someone who doesn’t want to look, who doesn’t want to ask questions.
Art speaks across cultures, a vehicle for empathy, in a sense. Could that be the essence of its evolution, to understand these quite personal, and at the same time totally collective, narratives?
I think that in the film Barceló makes it clear that art is always individual. In this sense, it’s necessary to distinguish between the one who does it, the impulse that encourages them to do it, and the one who sees it. They’re very different things.
Talking about evolution in art, I think Barceló also says in the documentary, that one could almost speak of a “regression” with respect to cave art. When you look at Altamira or Lascaux, I don’t think you can talk about evolution. Another different thing is how society perceives this art, and if we enter into issues not resolved by historians: What is the function of this art in society?
In the case of graffiti art, both Suso33 and Mena agree in pointing out the individuality of this art form, but when done in a public forum like an exposed wall, it immediately becomes a collective experience. And that experience can be one of appreciation, or of rejection, of course.
Your film documents historical art that’s been dutifully preserved, comparing it to street art, essentially destined to evolve, disappear and reappear. Was that dichotomy an intentional part of the narrative that you wanted to show?
A documentary is a wonderful process where you start from a proposal and it takes shape. At first we wanted to show how the art originated, and we soon realized that the elements that led to that origin were also in the modern art of the graffiti artists, that there were many elements in common, and at the same time many differences.
Therefore, we show that artistic impulse that apparently remained the same over time. Explore what is behind that impulse, which leads man to need to do the same thing thousands of years apart. It was not the intention to cover the entire history of art, but to deduce from that need to capture something on a wall the essence of what leads us creators to do what we do. And in this case, with an art without intermediaries, not commercialized. Also look for the plasticity of the process. And of course working with music, which is something I always do in my documentaries.
Each era is marked by creatives and their art seems to come down to pure imagination. How difficult is it to maintain passion for your art, your cinema, the passion that allows you to exploit the imagination that we’re so often taught to temper?
Cinema is my life, I’ve dedicated my life to cinema. I have more than 50 films and I wasn’t even 30 years old when I shot the first one. I’m also a photographer, I write novels, I draw, I stay very active. I wouldn’t know how to stop. I work continuously, I don’t sleep much, and when I’m not doing one thing, I do another.
The difficult thing, it seems to me, would be not to do what I do. The problem with old age is that sometimes the body puts obstacles in your way. I fight against that. I want to continue doing this as long as possible, the rest of my life. I like it so much.