In the course of just two feature films, Catalan director Albert Serra (b. 1975) has established himself as one of the most uncompromising and exciting filmmakers of the early 21st century, the newest member in a luminary constellation of filmmakers – Lisandro Alonso, Pedro Costa, Lucrecia Martel, Béla Tarr – that defy the ever-darkening skies of contemporary world cinema. Together, Serra's films Knight’s Honor and Birdsong define a radical mode of adaptation, a minimalist distillation of canonical and socio-culturally overdetermined texts – Don Quixote and the tale of the Magi, respectively – that reimagines these venerated tales as pure, almost trance-like cinematic events. Using non-professional actors gathered principally from Serra’s home town of Banyoles, and shot almost entirely outdoors without artificial light, Knight’s Honor and Birdsong are structured around exquisitely staged long takes that give a rare power and majesty to landscape and physical presence. Rather than iconic passages in Cervantes and the Bible, Serra carefully focuses instead on those interstitial moments lost to most versions, the quiet, melancholy idylls in the kings' lonely voyage, Quixote's casual musings to Sancho Panza, the miraculous passage of a cloud's vast shadow over a mountainside. A radical yet wonderfully accessible form of pure cinema, Serra's films rediscover the spatio-temporal quintessence of motion pictures, marvelously reanimating mythical heroes with the clumsy weight of existence and transforming landscapes into meditative dramas of light and shadow.
The Harvard Film Archive is honored to welcome Albert Serra for a rare US visit to discuss his unique approach to cinema and adaptation.Co-presented with the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard. Special thanks: Brad Epps, RLL; Mathilde Trichet and Audrey Hilaire, Capricci Films, Carlos Robles, Consul General of Spain in Boston.
Directed by Albert Serra, Appearing in Person
With Lluís Carbó, Lluís Serrat, Jaume Badia
Spain 2006, 35mm, color, 95 min. Catalan with English subtitles
Print from Notros Films
Serra's brilliant and instantly controversial adaptation of Don Quixote offers a revelatory portrait of the strangely symbiotic relationship between the knight errant and his loyal scribe. Patiently revealing the bonds of pathos and humor that bind the two misfits, Knight’s Honor centers exclusively and unconventionally on the quiet moments between Quixote and Sancho Panza's most famous misadventures. Shot on digital video in breathtaking pastoral locations, Serra's film creates a richly textured, painterly beauty from its technologically humble means, giving equal attention to the wind in the grass and the slow descent of night as to its two remarkable heroes. First-time nonprofessional actor and ex-tennis instructor Lluís Carbó brings a haunting frailty and almost chimerical aura to Quixote, a note of melancholy otherworldliness that gives an elegiac and genuinely moving quality to the film.
Directed by Albert Serra, Appearing in Person
With Victòria Aragonés, Lluís Carbó, Mark Peranson
Spain 2008, 35mm, b/w & color, 98 min. Catalan and Hebrew with English subtitles
Print from Capricci Films
Serra recasts the story of the Magi as an elemental epic of man simultaneously lost and found in the uncanny beauty of nature. Masterfully shot in black and white on remote, almost extraterrestrial locations in the Canary Islands and Iceland, Birdsong follows the slow, stumbling passage of the kings towards the mysterious birth that beckons them through the long days and dark nights. Like Knight's Honor, Birdsong adds a level of humor to gently undercut the sacred qualities of the tale, here by foregrounding the wonderfully profane corporality of the awkward kings who float and fidget in an assertively, refreshingly human manner.
Directed by Mark Peranson, Appearing in Person
2008, video, b/w & color, 105 min. Catalan, Spanish and Hebrew with English subtitles
Mark Peranson, editor and publisher of the cutting-edge Canadian film journal Cinema Scope and Joseph in Birdsong, turns his own camera on Albert Serra to capture an engrossing chronicle of the Catalan maverick's unorthodox, rule-based production methods. By interweaving the waiting moments between shoots with peregrinations to the various locations, Peranson gently echoes Serra's own non-centered narrative technique. Yet by juxtaposing the unusual execution of specific scenes with visions of their final form, Waiting for Sancho ultimately reaffirms rather than unveils the mystery of artistic creativity.