Music as a Lag Between Death and Infinity

Janis Prášil ruminates on Solo – this year´s winner of Ji.hlava Czech Joy section – which comes to cinemas. Did the picture succeed in depicting the inner world, so hard to portray, of a mentally ill musician? And what if it is the illness itself which enables people to take a look into the grievous core of being?

In Solo, the mental illness is not seen from the point of view of psychiatry or sociology, but from the point of view of philosophy and almost religious mystique. Photo Artcam

Stories of people struggling with a handicap might frighten, arouse pity or respect. A collective fear from death, suffering, loneliness, exclusion or strength to overcome barriers is reflected in them. The documentary I Want You If You Dare (2019) by Dana Smržová confronts the viewer with physicality of a gravely deformed young woman. Two Roads (2019) directed by Radovan Síbrt is a portrait of the music group The Tap Tap and underlines physical limitation as a social barrier. The film Solo (2019), which became the winner of this year´s Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival Czech Joy section, is different. It shows a handicap which is not seen. The “damaged” organ is the human mind. The portrait of the Argentinian pianist suffering from schizophrenia is a thrilling detective investigation. The French director Artemio Benki, living in Prague, does not show any dramatic situations and concentrates on a silent observation instead. He explores mental landscape of Martín Perino in slowly passing compositions. In a very patient way, he observes everyday being of the character that seems to be just a motionless object, under whose surface, however, inner tension and chaos are tangibly felt. Perino´s hands which constantly play with a cigarette or rap the table or glass to “play” an imaginary piece, drown the stifling silence and reveal nervousness and helplessness. After overdosing seven times, the pianist hid behind the world as well as his own self to the largest psychiatric hospital in South America, El Borda in Buenos Aires. Now he abandons walls of his shelter and returns into hopeless, uncertain and for him dangerous freedom, and nothing but an empty, uncosy house, too similar to his own inner world, awaits him. 

Physical existence of the character is not crucial for Benki. He is interested in his mysterious mind. The inner world of a mentally ill person opens room for metaphysical questions about relation of a human to reality. Not only the musician´s mind is schizophrenic. Such is also the core of human being, grounded in the conflict between finiteness and infiniteness, as well as dividedness of unavoidable death and desire to escape from it. This fascinating contrast is imaged in almost a theatrical scene with a puppet of an angel and a demon. A psychologist shows a figure with a face of a beautiful woman with a skull painted on her nape to Perino. He tries to show the patient that the illness, disguised as a beauty, is able to deceive. As a sea Siren, it separates a person from the rational world, lures them and leads into doom.

Solo. Photo Artcam

However, what if it is the illness itself which enables people to take a look into the grievous core of being, while common sense keeps us in a safe and merciful illusion? The mind has a magical ability to invoke demons and fall into nothingness or rise up into heavenly uplands and connect with universal harmony. It is well supported with the scenes showing Perino opening his inner world to people. When he lectures at college, plays in a club or at a party, faces of the audience become serious and concentrated, and the people take a look into their own mind. It seems that Perino´s melancholically calm compositions represent an encounter with something close and unachievable at the same time. The listeners become witnesses of something essentially private, and time stood still for them. 

The pianist in Miroslav Janek´s documentary Normal Autistic Film (2016) is able to stop the time, too. Denis, who has been diagnosed with Asperger´s syndrome, does not see his difference as a barrier. He sees it as a gift from above. It is true that he is “a bit out” of the ordinary world. However, at the same time he is constantly connected to a kind of universal mind. Janek pictures this connection in a form of a sensorially intensive experience of a present moment. He shoots the character of his picture in nature and shows Denis intoxicating with sounds, smells, shapes and colours of the forest. When the young musician steps on a rock and starts to sing an opera aria to people in the valley, the moment seems to gain spirituality. However, the strongest moment comes when Denis interprets Steve Reich´s Different Trains. Through this piece, he is able to connect to feelings and minds of people travelling in the Holocaust trains during World War II. He is able to meet the collective mind which exists crosswise time and space. He senses harmonies as well as disharmonies of the world as one big brain.

Solo. Photo Artcam

Benki knows that the inner world of his character is difficult to unfold or handle in a rational way. He offers much more than just an analysis of a medical diagnosis. The mental illness is not seen from the point of view of psychiatry or sociology. It is seen from the point of view of philosophy and almost religious mystique. Explaining dialogues are missing, he sketches Perino´s  life mainly through the power of experience. A sensed paradox of the human existence oscillating between being and non-being is aptly named by a priest in the opening scene. A human being is like a vase. Fragile, breakable, but still here.

Translated by Petra Ocelková

more articles from a section:  Review

1+2.19On Sounds by ImageThe film journalist Antonín Tesař writes about the new film The Sound Is Innocent directed by Johana Ožvold.Antonín Tesař
1+2.19A Place to Take a BreathThe film journalist Janis Prášil compares two documentary portraits of this year – Forman vs. Forman and Jiří Suchý: Tackling Life with Ease on his blog.Janis Prášil
F2.18The Silence of Others This film by Almudena Carracedo and Rober Bahar, produced by the Almodóvar brothers, screams out for justice for the unpunished crimes of the Franco régime
F4.17China, 87. The OthersWill Tizard from Variety on the Opus Bonum selection China 87. The Others by Violaine de VillersWill Tizard
F2.17Máme tlakovú níž / Richard Müller: Nepoznaný
F1.17Also Known as JihadiWill Tizard from Variety on the Opus Bonum selection Also Known as Jihadi byEric BaudelaireWill Tizard
F1.17The Lust for PowerWill Tizard from Variety on Opus Bonum selection The Lust for Power by Tereza Nvotová (world premiere).Will Tizard
F1.17On the Edge of Freedom Sydney Levine from SydneysBuzz on First Lights selection On the Edge of Freedom by Jens Lengerke and Anita Mathal Hopland (central European premiere). Sydney Levine
F3.17Acts and IntermissionsColin Beckett on Opus Bonum selection Acts and Intermissions by Child Abigail (internationale premiere).Colin Beckett
F3.17Enticing Sugary Boundless or Songs and Dances about DeathColin Beckett on Between the Seas selection Enticing Sugary Boundless or Songs and Dances about Death by Tetiana Khodakivska and Oleksandr Stekolenko (world premiere). Colin Beckett

starší články

17. 12. 2019

from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoyInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková