Virtual architecture

In the first series of shots of Pont de Varsòvia, the viewer sees different buildings that seem to suggest the plans of an impossible museum, one which can contain a life-size history of architecture, going from a mud or adobe hut to glass and metal skyscrapers, by way of a Gothic cathedral. This museum could well be the city of Barcelona where, as one can see in the first sequences, different architectural styles are all found side by side in the middle of a neon-lit pedestrian street. 

 

Although Pere Portabella always expressed a particular interest through his films in architecture and its visual description, in spaces where the senses expand beyond the action, in his latest full-length film he seems to insistently stress, right from the title itself, his status as an audiovisual architect. Portabella glimpses a bridge made of problematic crosses which is, at the same time, the title of a novel drafted by one of the characters, the mental image of someone else and an adaptation of that novel to the cinema which without any hesitation bursts into an exploration of diverse and coinciding paths.


At first sight, this new exploratory facet is a long way from the experimentalism and miscellaneous structure of some of his short and long films as director during Franco's regime, and seems to inherit some of the style of the later Buñuel, for whom Pere Portabella produced Viridiana (1960), especially that of El discreto encanto de la burguesía (1972) and El fantasma de la libertad (1974). Mirroring these works of Buñuel's, Portabella creates an opulent visual style, developing a plot which though not in the least bit linear or consequential, does not completely give up the narrative impulse, nor to some extent the principle of causality: each sequence seems to exist strictly in its own right but, at the same time, every image clings on like a hungry leech to the ones surrounding it because this architecture of belonging and rejection consists of a number of superimposed layers, like different stages of sensitivity incorporating both guiding lights and signs of dispersion.

 

The anecdote which acts as one of the starting points in the story is that of a diver found dead in a forest ravaged  by fire. The idea of this body outside its "natural" context, a mystery for forensic medicine, is explained with inexorable logic at the end of the film. The architecture of the dead body, classified with strict thoroughness in an autopsy sequence, does not solve anything. The realm escaping the language of science is grasped by "Pont de Varsòvia" in its interior with a strict logic of long stylised and slowed-down shots. This swing between science and art is put forward as the main focus of a film that has at its core a perfect equilateral triangle, made up of an orchestral conductor, a biology professor and a writer. This geometry has three very clear edges: dreamy abstraction (the musician), scientific scepticism (the professor) and a synthesis of both (the writer of the book Pont de Varsòvia, who supposedly contains the other two characters).

 

Three years after this film, Portabella declared that for cinema "heterodoxy, incorrectness, is the only escape route possible to try and do something of interest that proposes a type of discourse and use of different languages". That an incorrect heterodox should believe in the possibility of discursive typologies and of the cinema as a form of language is no contradiction, for it is precisely this synthesis which is handled in this film. For example, the inclusion of computer-generated images in "Pont de Varsòvia" (this is probably one of the first Spanish productions to announce the imminent arrival of digital culture) is a lucid sample of this paradoxical conflict stimulated by the film: mathematical precision used for the creation of images so polysemous and autonomous as to make them escape any kind of scientific classification. Like architecture, digital culture is between science and art for Pere Portabella, and it is this bridge, above all things, that he manages to put across in this film. In this place of transit, in the firm belief in this movement, is precisely how Portabella's cinema (dis)orientates us.

Autor:Diego Trerotola
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