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The Magnetic Tree: That damned nostalgia


- Isabel Ayguavives’ feature debut is a slow-burning family portrait with underlying emotions hidden deep down, and the burden of the past conditioning its characters

The Magnetic Tree: That damned nostalgia

In her earlier short films, Galician filmmaker Isabel Ayguavives has already resorted to the topics of past times, lineage and absences: memory imbued the images and conflicts with a fine sheen of melancholy, as also occurs in her feature debut, The Magnetic Tree [+see also:
interview: Isabel Ayguavives
film profile
, which is being released this Friday 1 August in Spanish cinemas after having turned heads at festivals such as San Sebastián, Cologne and Madridimagen, where it won the Best Film Award. In between, this woman who manages to capture on screen what stirs within her worked as a director’s assistant on television series; meanwhile, for four years she attempted to get this personal project off the ground, a project that originated from a journey that she undertook with a Chilean friend who was returning to his country after a prolonged absence of many years. The people who Isabel met at that time seemed so special to her and made her feel so many emotions that she now invites us – with her static shots, her silences and the looks exchanged by her actors – to be a part of a similar gathering.

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Ever mindful of the masterful Rohmer, and managing to harmoniously align the story and the way it is told, Ayguavives takes us to Chile, to a country house that is to be sold imminently. There we find Nela (the magnificent Manuela Martelli) together with her parents, who are finalising the preparations for the arrival of Bruno (Andrés Gertrúdix, who we saw recently in 10.000 noches en ninguna parte [+see also:
film review
interview: Ramón Salazar
film profile
), one of the girl’s cousins, who has been living in Europe for some time. Soon after, the rest of the well-populated clan start arriving in order to celebrate the family reunion – with highlights including chatterbox Javier (Juan Pablo Larenas) and the family’s tight-lipped grandmother. And then we observe their expressions, movements, meals, codes, behaviour and games, which are all just as routine as they are, seemingly, humdrum, but brimming with nostalgia because their memories determine their way of connecting with one another and also enable them to continue being a close-knit family.

To achieve this meticulous level of naturalism, the director uses long, static shots, takes advantage of reflections in the windows and barely slips in any music at all: when she does use it, the splashes of sound are minimalist, not at all emphatic and totally in keeping with the relaxed atmosphere that is exuded by the frames of her film. What happens on screen ends up being more of an undercurrent than anything obvious, and for that reason, through the characters’ eyes, the viewer is able to gain an insight into what they are thinking. It is more about evoking things, not knowing for absolute certain what is going on; and this compels the audience to get involved in the storyline and, from each person’s individual point of view, play out the film.

Thus, The Magnetic Tree – a co-production involving Spain and Chile that received backing from Ibermedia and TVE – proves that returning to places from the past can cause disappointment because from an adult’s perspective we see them as smaller, uglier or more damaged, and we seek, or even yearn, to feel the same as we did all those years ago, which is now impossible. But, as the film teaches us, we have to learn to live with this and enjoy the present. With all of this, Ayguavives has created a mosaic of different situations that combine to form a subtle reflection on that damned nostalgia that can sometimes end up weighing down too heavily on us. 

(Translated from Spanish)

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