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José Luis Guerín • Director

"The only continent I understand is the continent of cinema"

by 

José Luis Guerín • Director

Spanish director José Luis Guerín’s latest film En la ciudad de Sylvia [+see also:
trailer
film profile
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was part of the Official Competition at the recent Venice Film Festival (see news). The film, which premieres in Spain on September 14, follows a dreamer (Xavier Lafitte) who returns to Strasbourg after several years in the hope of finding Sylvie again. He sees her in the faces of all the women that pass, and finally follows a woman (Pilar López de Ayala) who might be Sylvia.

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Cineuropa: You are a Spanish director who made a film Strasbourg, a very European city. Do you see your film as a European film?
José Luis Guerín: I don’t see cinema in terms of Spanish, French, European or American. I think we should see cinema as a separate continent; the only continent I understand is the continent of cinema. It is impossible to think that French or Spanish cinema is bad or good; cinema is made up of individual films. Until the sixties, it was possible to speak about groups of filmmakers who worked together and had manifestos, but all that is finished now. We, the filmmakers of today, are very solitary individuals. The continent of cinema is the only country of the filmmaker, who is bound to other filmmakers only by a mysterious sentiment of fraternity.

Why did you decide that Strasbourg had to be the city of Sylvia?
That is simple: because no one has ever filmed it and it is a city I like. We looked for a city that could be a bit ambiguous about its identity. On the soundtrack, we can hear a lot of different languages; it is something of a foreign town for both the French and the Germans. It is an ideal town to be colonised by the ghosts of a woman. It is also an easy city to work in. There is almost no traffic and what there is in terms of people on foot and tramways, it moves at a nice rhythm, almost like a musical symphony. The entire film was shot in public spaces -- as something of a confrontation with the intimacy of the characters -- so the role of this movement in the city is essential. I also need to thank the generous help of the Alsace region.

How did you work on the contrast between the characters and their surroundings?
When the dreamer is following a woman, he only sees her; the rest disappears. If the camera takes a wider view, then it sees all the staples of a big city: the Pakistani rose-seller; the Africans that try to sell imitation bags of expensive brands; the Romanians with their accordions; the female tramp. There is this constant tension between the dreamer’s point of view and what is going on around him, just like in any life in any city. Even if the dreamer is absent from the shot, the presence of a tramp we have seen before could invoke this spectre of a woman. These kinds of mysteries can only be made visible on film.

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